Most of what I have learned thus far in this unit has reaffirmed my position that immigration is an integral aspect of American society. America is built on a nation of immigrants who have enriched the nation’s culture and added to its productive capacity. The vast amount of immigration in America versus other countries gives the U.S. a global economic advantage, with both high-skilled and low-skilled contributing to the economy. High-skilled workers bring innovative ideas and establish business connections from their home country and the U.S. Immigrant connections between countries may allow for increased investments and trade in the global market. Low-skill workers, tend to fill jobs that Americans will not fill, such as agricultural and menial labor. With America’s population concentrated in cities, filling these unwanted agricultural jobs may revitalize rural areas and fuel population growth. Something noteworthy that I learned through finding sources for the immigration research guide is that Baby Boomers, over the next 20 years, will retire en masse. As a result, immigrant labor will be essential for filling these jobs and boosting the economy. Throughout this unit, hearing the personal stories allowed me to combine factual, general information with the emotional aspect of immigration.
The personal stories immigration stories from this unit helped me understand the psychological impact of immigration, especially on children, which I had previously not considered much. In the 21st century, we have seen a number of immigrants coming not just for economic opportunity, but to escape the turmoil in their home countries. Seeking political asylum has more acute consequences on immigrants than economic push factors. Violence and political turmoil in many parts of Central America and the Middle East have forced people to come to America, seeking political asylum. In addition, the process of immigration has become more dangerous. In I Learn America, Brandon’s story of coming to Guatemala and crossing the dangerous Mexican-American border, particularly struck me. It helped me realize when these people come to America, they not only bring the psychological trauma from war and violence in their home country, but also from the journey itself. Dealing with such stress, in addition to coping with everyday life in this new country is surely a huge obstacle. In the Baltimore Sun’s articles on immigration, it is revealed that the teachers in Patterson Park often have a difficult time coping with the teenagers’ use of phones during school. Only after reading the article, I realized that phones are one of the few ways for the immigrant teens to maintain ties with their home country. It was especially sad to read that some students have to use their phones to check updates on the status of their village and to see if it has been bombed. Another aspect of the experience of immigrant youth that I found interesting, was the fact that the children must a new language while navigating through the difficulties of work, school, and family life. Although I believe that immigrants should not be required to learn English, a rise in non-English speakers in America may increase the education gap between U.S. citizens and immigrants. This would be a large factor contributing to less assimilation.
Perhaps the most impactful feature of the documentary, for me, was the insight into the characters’ experiences as not only immigrants but also as teenagers. Navigating life in a new country, while also facing the everyday obstacles of adolescence, is certainly challenging. There is also an apparent effect of immigration on each student’s evolving identity. The film shows that the students often struggle to bridge the gap between following the expectations of American culture and the culture of their homeland. Itrat, for example, is a devout Muslim whose father expects her to fulfill the traditional, domestic role of women in Pakistan. She also has an arranged marriage waiting for her in Pakistan. Simultaneously, however, she is seen embracing her American education and aspiring to attend college. With this conflict of interest, Itrat has to ultimately choose between two aspects of her identity–her familiar homeland and her new America.
This unit has also furthered my understanding of the relationship immigration and politics in America. More than 90 percent of Latinos under age 18 are U.S. citizens and will soon be able to participate in politics, with most presumably voting Democrat. In my opinion, so long as Republicans maintain their tough stance on immigration and border security, the majority of Latinos will vote Democrat. Finally, finding resources about deportation has extended my understanding of politics and immigration. People are often separated from their families in order to come to America. Even for those who are successfully able to bring or join their families, there is a constant fear of deportation for undocumented immigrants. Since undocumented immigrants, by definition, enjoy fewer rights than U.S. citizens, legal representation in order to obtain a pathway to citizenship and to decrease the likelihood of deportation is difficult to acquire. I’m worried that a right-wing Supreme Court will make legal representation even more challenging for undocumented immigrants.
The methods in which the content of this unit was introduced, with both personal and societal stories, has allowed me to extend my understanding of immigration in a more thoughtful and comprehensive manner.