The Oscars Highlight the Contributions of Immigrants

Hollywood is one of the most iconic symbols of America and, like so much of America, it wouldn’t be what it is today without immigrants. Even in the midst of debates about diversity and representation, it is apparent that immigrants “get the job done” in filmmaking and other performing arts. In fact, one out of every eight workers in the movie industry is an immigrant, including some of Hollywood’s biggest names like Lupita Nyongo, Ryan Reynolds and the Hemsworth brothers.

The 2020 Oscars

It’s no secret that the 2020 Academy Awards (Oscars) have come under fire for failing to keep up with an increasingly diverse industry. Yet the fact that so many heavyweight contenders this awards season are either immigrants or international stars seems to have gone unnoticed. Three out of the five nominees for best leading actress are from overseas: Cynthia Erivo (United Kingdom), Saoirse Ronan (Ireland) and Charlize Theron (South Africa). Also hoping to take home a statue this year are best adapted screenplay nominee Taika Waititi (New Zealand), best original screenplay nominee Sam Mendes (United Kingdom), best director nominee Bong Joon-Ho (South Korea), best leading actor nominees Antonio Banderas (Spain) and Jonathan Pryce (United Kingdom), and best supporting actress nominee Margot Robbie (Australia).

These artists follow in the footsteps of some of last year’s biggest winners like Egyptian-American Rami Malek, who won best actor for his portrayal of singer Freddie Mercury, director Alfonso Cuarón of Mexico, who swept three categories with Roma, and British best actress winner Olivia Colman.

Immigrants were there from the start

Swedish-born Ingrid Bergman won three Academy Awards in the 1940s and 50s.

German immigrant Carl Laemmle founded Universal Pictures in 1912. Polish immigrant Samuel Goldwyn got his start at Universal and went on to create Goldwyn Pictures in 1916. In 1924 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was born when Goldwyn merged with Mayer Pictures, founded by Ukrainian immigrant Louis B. Mayer. Three years later, Mayer spearheaded the creation of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which presented its first Academy Awards in 1929.

German-born Emil Jannings was the first person to receive the award. Over the years, many other immigrants have made their mark. In the 30s, Frank Capra (Italy) won three Oscars for best director. In the 40s and 50s Ingrid Bergman (Sweden) won three Oscars for acting, and Miyoshi Umeki (Japan) became the only Asian woman to date to win an Academy Award for acting. Meanwhile, Sam Spiegel (Austria/Poland) took home three best director Oscars. Immigrants were essential to creating the American film industry, and have continued to contribute to its success ever since.

Hollywood now

The positive impact of immigrants in the trillion-dollar creative sector is unquestionable. In addition to the many famous immigrants in Hollywood, there is an ecosystem of writers, videographers, production assistants, costume designers, choreographers, editors, technicians, makeup artists and photographers, many of whom are foreign-born. In total, there are currently some 400,000 immigrants working in creative or artistic jobs, and 25,000 are actors, producers or directors.

The desire to draw talented entertainment professionals to the United States is so strong that the industry has its own visa category: the O1-B visa. One of the most flexible visa categories in the U.S., it’s reserved for “individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture and film industry.” Unlike other visas that have annual limits that are far exceed by the demand for them, there is no cap on how many O1-Bs can be issued. In addition, the O-2 visa was created to allow for staff or assistants to accompany an O1 visa holder to the U.S. At a time when so many restrictions are being placed on other visa categories, these unrestricted visas are a sure sign the country remains determined to welcome artists with open arms.

Why is this important?

The entertainment industry is both beloved and wide-reaching. Film and television content are among the country’s most lucrative exports. By some estimates 70 percent of U.S. studios’ annual revenues come from international sales. The United States presents itself to the world through these works, which both inform and are informed by the rest of the world. International artists bring perspectives and stories that can help American companies capture more of the large, global market.

In addition to the economic impact, the cultural impact of this industry is hard to overestimate. Like it or not, Hollywood influences our cultural identity. Our movies and TV shows are part of our shared experience and help form Americans’ sense of who we are. For many audience members around the world, it is the only frame of reference for what it means to be American. It is a beacon that draws many of the world’s greatest artists to the United States. This country’s strength has always been our ability to welcome talented people and incorporate their diversity of perspectives, regardless of where they were born. The performing arts are simply the most visible way to demonstrate the value that immigrants bring to the U.S. economy and culture.


How teachers can help these highly diverse students make sense of the modern world


Every generation brings a fresh perspective on social and political issues, and educators have to find ways to adjust to these changes. The post-millennial generation of young Americans currently coming of age, known as Generation Z, has already cemented its reputation as politically engaged, highly educated and very diverse. While there are actually fewer foreign-born post-millennials than millennials, they are still highly likely to come from immigrant families. Nearly one-third of “Gen Z” is either an immigrant or the child of immigrants, and almost half is non-white.

While research shows that diversity is beneficial, it can be challenging for students to reap those benefits when anti-immigrant rhetoric and racial tensions dominate the national stage. Professor John Rogers at UCLA notes that 89 percent of high school principals report “incivility and contentiousness in the broader political environment has considerably affected their school community,” and an additional 83 percent see untrustworthy and disputed information fueling inner-school tensions.

Fortunately, there are techniques educators can use to help ensure that young people are getting the culturally competent support they need, even in environments where race and immigration are contentious topics. Some tips are provided in this article. We’ll be diving further into these techniques in our next free webinar Understanding Immigration Today: Current Events in the Classroom on February 12, 2020.

Media Literacy

Gen Zers get their news predominantly from the internet and social media.In order to develop these dispositions, students need to feel safe to engage and express themselves. Classrooms can be a place to learn accurate information about current events and hold compassionate, evidence-based discussions.

Gen Zers get their news predominantly from the internet and social media. This means that not only are they vulnerable to seeing false or incomplete information, they are also exposed to confusing opinions and hurtful biases. They need to learn how to tell opinion from fact and fact from fiction. Teachers can help their students by incorporating current events into the classroom and showing students how to evaluate “news.”

There are a number of resources for children and teenagers that explain the headlines in age-appropriate formats, ranging from NBC Learn for ages seven and older to PBS NewsHour Extra for 14 and above. It can also be useful for students to share opinions in the classroom, especially if there are clear guidelines around using respectful language. By exploring these resources and discussions in a classroom, students can form their own opinions with accurate information in a compassionate and calm environment.

Attitude Adjustment

One of our content partners, Re-imagining Migration, creates curricula and related resources for diverse classrooms. They’ve identified five key dispositions that are essential for success in a diverse environment:

  • Understand Perspective: value one’s own and others
  • Inquire: be curious and the inclination to ask relevant and informed questions
  • Communicate: build relationships across differences
  • Recognize Inequality: historical and current
  • Take Action: everyone can help make the classroom more inclusive

Educators who teach the skill set and attitudes that correspond to these dispositions can help their students face an uncertain world. Even the most dedicated teacher can’t prepare students for every painful situation or ethical dilemma, but they can help students develop critical thinking and emotional resilience.

Let Them Lead

It’s not only young people who have something to learn. Educators have great reasons to put faith in their students and give them opportunities to lead. Sometimes called iGen, this generation has grown up in the digital age with a wealth of information at their fingertips, and they are showing themselves to be both well-informed and highly motivated by education and new experiences. They also tend to value diversity and have a more international outlook than previous generations. As this cohort of young people enters universities and workplaces, they are sure to infuse these values into their institutional cultures and society at large. So while teachers can and should take steps to help their students grow, there are times when students can lead the way.

More Resources

How Immigration Has Enriched American Holidays


It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is known as a time of giving gifts, visiting family and eating traditional feasts. The winter holidays are important to Americans of many backgrounds as this time of year holds important celebrations for Jews, Christians, Muslims (depending on the lunar calendar), Buddhists, Pagans, Zoroastrians and anyone who uses the Gregorian Calendar.

With such a blend of traditions, it should come as no surprise that immigration has shaped many of the most beloved American holiday customs, from playing dreidel to gifts from Santa Claus to the final countdown on New Year’s Eve.


European colonists brought Christmas to North America in the 1600s. Their observations were strictly religious, with few of the treats and trappings familiar to modern Americans. In the 1800s, Germanic immigrants brought the traditions of Christmas trees and visits from Santa Claus. Christmas trees did not become widely popular until after the industrial revolution when ornaments and special candles could be mass produced in Europe and shipped to the United States. Saint Nicolaus, or Sinterklaas, as he was known to the German, Dutch, Ukrainian and Swiss immigrants who originally celebrated him, was expected on December 6 not the 24th. He is still celebrated on that date in communities throughout the U.S. Other communities continue the Christmas celebration into January. After weeks of gatherings and feasts, Christians from South and Central America have a final celebration on January 6 known as Three Kings Day or the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Christians from Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece, Israel, Russia and several other Eastern European countries follow the Julian calendar and therefore celebrate Christmas on January 7.


Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an ancient Jewish holiday that commemorates the rededication of a Temple in Jerusalem after winning it back from the Greek occupiers in the second century BCE. Historically Hanukkah had been considered a minor event in the Hebrew calendar, but for modern American Jews,  it can be one of the biggest celebrations of the year. The largest waves of Jewish immigration to the United States took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fueled by both economic concerns and an increasingly hostile environment in Europe. New Jewish Americans were eager to show their enthusiasm for their adopted homeland, and the subject of hard-won religious freedom seemed particularly relevant. Hanukkah became a perfect opportunity to participate in American holiday-time feasting and gift-giving while keeping their traditions and building stable Jewish communities. A hundred years later, Hanukkah is celebrated by millions of Americans each year and has become one of the most valued traditions of North American Jewish communities.


Kwanzaa is the newest and the only December holiday to start in the United States, and it is now celebrated by millions around the world. It was created in the 1960s to reconnect American descendants of enslaved Africans with their heritage. Unlike other immigrants that could choose for themselves, African Americans were forced to give up their histories and cultural traditions. For seven days, observers of Kwanzaa celebrate their heritage and reflect on shared principles. The name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits of the harvest.” Traditional Kwanzaa foods include groundnut stews from Ghana and “doro wat” chicken from Ethiopia, while soul food or Creole dishes like black eyed peas and jambalaya tell the history of Africans and their descendants in the Americas. The food, greetings, symbolism and tales shared during Kwanzaa tell a story of forced migration and hard-won rights for African Americans and also build connections to the rich history and cultural traditions of Africa.

New Year’s Eve

The dawn of each new year is celebrated across the globe. Perhaps the most famous observance, the annual Times Square Ball Drop in New York City, was begun by an immigrant. Prior to 1904, New Yorkers celebrated New Year’s Eve with a tradition adopted from Chinese New Year celebrations, fireworks. However, early 20th century fireworks were fast becoming a safety hazard in crowded cities. A solution was offered by Adolph Ochs, a German-born, Jewish newspaper magnate and publisher of The New York Times. Ochs collaborated with the city to start a new, safer tradition at Times Square, which had been renamed in honor of the new Times headquarters. Ochs’ idea took hold, and the ball drop has become the grand finale to New Year’s Eve celebrations ever since.

And More

Those are only a handful of the ways that American holiday traditions have been influenced by cultures from around the world. You can find out more about the Celtic pagan celebrations that gave us delicious Yule logs or how the original New Year’s resolutions were introduced in ancient Babylonia or simply make a point of participating in the many celebrations held in your community. For more information about how to celebrate our diverse history during the holidays, check out some of the resources below.

Celebrate Diversity During the Holiday – ideas and lesson plan for teachers.

Celebrate! Holidays and Anti-Bias Education

Creating an inclusive holiday environment for employers

Thoughts on building tradition as a multicultural family

You’re helping whole families to succeed

When Manalie first joined The ILC’s Next Steps program to improve her English and advance her career, she asked her teacher to move her down a level. She didn’t believe she could handle the work, particularly while juggling two part time jobs at Burger King and the Cheesecake Factory. Her teacher told her to believe in herself and Manalie stuck with it.

Now she’s leaving the school early because she was accepted into a certified nursing assistant (CNA) program, the first step in her dream of becoming a nurse. She told her classmates that sometimes you won’t think that you can do it, but you can. Her father is currently taking Level 2 classes at The ILC and her sister is an ILC graduate who is now in college. For this family, learning English is a family affair.

Thank you for making stories like this possible through your continued support.







Diane Portnoy
Founder and CEO
The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc.

Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards

The eighth annual ILC Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards were held on October 29, 2019. Check out the website to see photos and learn about this year’s winners.

Immigrant Entrepreneur Nominee Jose Garcia Profiled in Wicked Local Somerville

Wicked Local Somerville recently profiled Jose Garcia, a nominee for our Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards. Garcia is an immigrant from Guatemala who fell in love with Japanese cooking and opened three Boston restaurants, including Ebi Sushi in Somerville. Congratulations, Jose Garcia!

The Immigrant Learning Center®, Inc. (ILC) of Malden, MA, is a not-for-profit organization that gives immigrants a voice in three ways. The English Language Program provides free, year-round English classes to immigrant and refugee adults in Greater Boston to help them become successful workers, parents and community members. The Public Education Institute informs Americans about the economic and social contributions of immigrants in our society, and the Institute for Immigration Research, a joint venture with George Mason University, conducts research on the economic contributions of immigrants.

How Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Strengthening Massachusetts’ Life Science Ecosystem


Picture a world where you could get a vaccine without being jabbed with a needle, where you could get an expert medical opinion in a few clicks instead of a few weeks and where organ transplants are no longer a race against time. In this new world, agricultural pests and disease are controlled without traditional chemical pesticides and global pandemics are controlled quickly and cost-effectively with new vaccines. If the nominees for this year’s Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Award for Life Science Business have their way, that’s the world we’ll all be living in soon.

With more than 1,000 biotech companies headquartered here, the Boston area is known as a global center of biotechnological innovation. The Life Science Business category is meant to show the critical role immigrants have played in making this possible. After all, more than one quarter of all biotech companies in New England have an immigrant founder. It’s no surprise that immigrants, people who are willing to leave behind everything familiar and start over somewhere completely new, are such an incredible source of fresh, groundbreaking ideas.

Revolutionizing Organ Transplants

Life-saving organ transplantation is one field in need of new ideas. Every 10 minutes, someone in the United States is added to the waiting list for a donated organ. In 2017 alone, 6,500 candidates died before an organ could be found. Dr. Waleed Hassanein is revolutionizing organ transplants and increasing the odds for many desperate patients.

As a resident doctor at Georgetown University Medical Center, Hassanein was stunned to find that organ transportation technology had not evolved beyond stuffing donated organs into picnic coolers full of ice cubes. With the same drive and determination that led him to leave his native Egypt and pursue a medical career in the United States, he began looking for a better solution. That drive led him to start his company, TransMedics, to commercialize his Organ Care System (OCS). His invention can keep hearts beating and lungs breathing outside the body, which increases organ viability by two to three times longer than traditional methods and dramatically improves the chances of a good match. To date, OCS has been used in more than 1,300 organ transplants worldwide and is poised to become the new standard of care for solid organ transplantation. Looking ahead, Dr. Hassanein believes that the OCS technology holds the potential to unlock entirely new approaches to treating disease. For example, OCS could allow doctors to treat organs with chemotherapy outside the body without the risk of the side effects.

Dr. Waleed Hassanein, TransMedics


How does OCS work?
See for yourself:

Modernizing Drug Delivery

Dr. Patrick Anquetil, Portal Instruments

Dr. Patrick Anquetil, wants to revolutionize an even older medical device: the needle and syringe. That technology has been delivering medications for more than 160 years, but Dr. Anquetil thinks we deserve better. His company, Portal Instruments, has created a needle-free jet injection device that he intends make the standard for modern drug delivery. He imagines a needle-free world where painful injections and fears of getting a shot are things of the past. In particular, this device could improve quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses who self-inject on a regular basis.

More than most, Dr. Anquetil knows what it’s like to start over in a new country. He left his native France to pursue a master’s degree from the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zurich and the University of Tokyo before coming to Cambridge, Mass. Here he earned his MBA from Harvard and doctorate in bioinstrumentation from MIT, and he stayed to build a life and career.  Dr. Anquetil always dreamed of starting a company. It wasn’t until he came to Boston and saw the “ecosystem” of universities, start-ups and hospitals that he realized he could do it. His extraordinary success, including the creation of two prior companies, Aretais Inc. and SynapDx, is proof that he chose well. Dr. Anquetil mentors other immigrant entrepreneurs. His top advice, particularly for those in life sciences? Come to Boston!

Democratizing Speciality Medicine

Dr. Babak Movassaghi, InfiniteMD

Ask an immigrant why they came to the United States, and you are likely to hear “for more opportunity.” Capitalizing on opportunity is an immigration super power. Dr. Babak Movassaghi saw the immense potential of telemedicine when it was still just a buzzword. If you can use the internet to have a video conversation with your friends on their trip to Thailand, why shouldn’t you be able to access the United States’ top medical experts from anywhere in the world? This German immigrant turned that opportunity into reality when he created InfiniteMD, a virtual expert opinion provider.

Dr. Movassaghi believes that neither language nor geography should be a barrier to accessing top health care. That’s why InfiniteMD collects and translates medical records in any language and provides medically trained interpreters during live video consultations. InfiniteMD provides access to 2,000 of the world’s leading physicians to 3 million people around the world. The results speak for themselves. Twenty-one percent of patients using InfiniteMD changed or corrected their diagnoses, and 72 percent improved their treatment plans. A lot more people are likely to take advantage of this opportunity as 99 percent of patients would recommend InfiniteMD to friends and family.

Achieving the Impossible

Dr. Andrey Zarur, Greenlight Biosciences

It should be no surprise that nominees for the 2019 Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards have the potential to improve people’s lives in a myriad of ways. Two-thirds of immigrant-led biotech companies focus on research with applications to human health, compared to less than half of companies without a foreign-born founder. Andrey Zarur, from Mexico, and Marta Ortega-Valle, from Spain, founded their company Greenlight Biosciences to improve the health of people and our planet.

Using their GreenWorX platform, Zarur and Ortega-Valle are helping innovators safely and cost-effectively use RNA (DNA’s less famous cousin) to target some of the world’s biggest problems. They want to use their RNA technology to do everything from improving vaccines to protecting the world from pandemics to creating eco-friendly pesticides. Investors are taking note to the tune of $96 million over several rounds of funding.

Marta Ortega-Valle, Greenlight Biosciences

Greenlight Biosciences is proving that biotechs can have a successful business and a social conscience. In fact, Dr. Zarur has said, “We believe it is our duty to society to achieve the impossible.” To that end, the company has opened up their biological platform to help partners in academia and industry research and create RNA-based products that can positively impact society and help save the Earth for future generations.


In addition to technological breakthroughs, immigrant entrepreneurs create jobs and enable the next generation of scientists and business leaders. Immigrant-led biotech companies employ more than 4,000 people and produce more than $7.5 billion in sales in New England alone. All of the 2019 Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Award nominees featured here are working to strengthen the ecosystem and encourage more entrepreneurship. For example, Dr. Movassaghi helped build MIT Hacking Medicine, a group created to accelerate medical innovation by teaching health care entrepreneurship. Although we have only just scratched the surface of how immigrants are making a difference, it is clear that Boston could not be the capital of Life Science innovation without them.

Meet the Latina Immigrant Entrepreneurs of Massachusetts

Yessy Feliz comes from a family of well-educated women with can-do attitudes, like her mother who worked two jobs while resettling her family from the Dominican Republic to Massachusetts. Even so, she is the first member of her family to own her own business. Tails, Inc., her animal supply and dog care store is no pet project. It’s a booming business in the heart of Jamaica Plain, one of Boston’s most diverse and canine-loving neighborhoods. For Yessy, running a business is both a fulfillment of her own dreams and a path forward for herself and other Latinx immigrants.

“Tails is a legacy, it’s a stepping stone for the next generation to come and say, ‘If she was able to do it, we are able to do it,’” said Yessy, who has been nominated for the 2019 Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Award for Neighborhood Business hosted by The Immigrant Learning Center.

The Neighborhood Business category, which honors small business owners who are directly impacting their communities, has always been a place where Latina women shine. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15) and this year’s Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards, we are honored to have three amazing Latina businesswomen: Yessy Feliz, Zoila Gomez originally from the Dominican Republic and Miriam Morales from Nicaragua. It should come as no surprise to see these outstanding women. Over the past five years, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 21 percent, and more businesses than ever before are owned by Latinx entrepreneurs.

Zoila Gomez of Gomez & Palumbo Attorneys at Law always knew her path in life was to be a business owner. While she originally trained to be a beautician at her family’s suggestion, she felt trapped by the thought of owning a salon. Instead, she went to Northern Essex Community College to study political science before getting her J.D. from the Massachusetts School of Law. As the founder of Gomez & Palumbo, she is fulfilling both her passion for immigration law and her family’s dream for her to run her own business.

Zoila and Yessy have built their businesses in areas that have produced many powerful immigrant women entrepreneurs. Gomez & Palumbo is located in Lawrence. Known as Massachusetts’ City of Immigrants, the population of Lawrence is nearly three-quarters Latinx a statistic that is reflected in the number of immigrant-owned businesses there. Julia Silverio, who won an Immigrant Entrepreneur Award for Business Growth in 2012, attributed Lawrence’s economic recovery after the Great Recession to the number of immigrant entrepreneurs who made a home in the city.

Tails is similarly placed in the heart of Boston’s “Latin Quarter” along the section of Center Street that’s been dubbed “Avenida de las Americas” in honor of the neighborhood’s South and Central American heritage. Across the street is Ultra Beauty Salon, owned by Damaris Pimentel, another Dominican entrepreneur who won the Neighborhood Business Award in 2015. From their windows, one can see a parade of bakeries, restaurants and barber shops flying flags from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, a testament to how immigration and economic growth go hand in hand in the neighborhood.

Hispanic and Latina-owned businesses are growing all over the commonwealth, not just in areas with a high-density of immigrants. Miriam Morales’ café, Recreo Coffee & Roasterie has two locations, one in West Roxbury and another in Boston’s City Hall. While neither location is known for a high immigrant population, Miriam feels right at home. It’s no surprise since she is serving up coffee that is grown in her family’s farm in Jinotega, Nicaragua. Not only that, but the café organizes annual trips to Nicaragua every year to educate Americans about coffee farming and fair trade practices. For her, the café is the key to staying connected to her childhood home and building a beloved community in her adopted city.

To learn more about the Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards and all the amazing nominees, click here.

Climbing the ladder, with a boost from you

When Rosa says, “Thank God for The ILC,” she’s really giving thanks for supporters like you.

Rosa and her children came to the United States in 2011 to join her husband. For seven years she struggled to succeed at low-end jobs because she couldn’t speak English. She worked in places like a bakery and cleaning at a hotel. Bosses would get frustrated at her lack of English skills or try to take advantage. Customers and co-workers could be mean. She started working at Chicken & Rice Guys last year at about the same time she started taking classes at The Immigrant Learning Center. As her English improved, her job got better. She says now she’s comfortable talking to customers and answering their questions. In August, she was promoted to supervisor.

It’s your support that makes stories like this possible. Thank you.







Diane Portnoy
Founder and CEO
The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc.

The Immigrant Learning Center®, Inc. (ILC) of Malden, MA, is a not-for-profit organization that gives immigrants a voice in three ways. The English Language Program provides free, year-round English classes to immigrant and refugee adults in Greater Boston to help them become successful workers, parents and community members. The Public Education Institute informs Americans about the economic and social contributions of immigrants in our society, and the Institute for Immigration Research, a joint venture with George Mason University, conducts research on the economic contributions of immigrants.

Cambodian-American nominated for immigrant entrepreneur award

Phalla Nol, whose family is originally from Battambang province, was among 38 immigrants nominated for the 2019 Barry M Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards, the Immigrant Learning Centre announced this week.

The Immigrant Learning Center honors 38 nominees for the 2019 Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards

The Immigrant Learning Center is honored to announce the nominees for the 2019 Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards. Thirty-Eight outstanding business leaders who are Massachusetts residents from 26 countries and founded businesses in 24 local communities, from Hyannis to Springfield, are contending for these eighth, annual awards. More than a competition, in today’s environment where powerful forces are sending messages to immigrants and refugees such as “go back to your country,” these Awards send a message of gratitude to the international entrepreneurs who have chosen Massachusetts as their home to live, innovate and create jobs.


Use Immigration Narratives to Build a Sense of Belonging in Classrooms


The classroom is a place where students learn much more than coursework. It is one of the primary places where students discover the great diversity of the world through personal encounters, coursework and underlying themes. All students have been affected in some way by the movement of people around the globe, yet certain stories of migration and immigration bring pride and admiration, while others are used to shame students or set them apart.

So how can all students see themselves as equal participants in the global story of human migration? Can that shared identity inspire a sense of community and belonging, even in multicultural spaces? The Immigrant Learning Center’s free, annual online workshop, 2019 Immigrant Student Success: Strategies and Tools for K-12 and Adult Educators, provided techniques to empower students to be creative thinkers and active contributors to a diverse, global society.

Teachers can promote integration, mutual respect and a shared sense of belonging for students of every age. Presenters in the 2019 Student Success workshop have developed creative techniques that help students tell their own stories, find common ground with others, and critically engage with the human story of migration and cross-cultural interaction.

In this video, Adam Strom explains why a sense of inclusion is deeply important and how students’ immigration histories can be a source of both inclusion and exclusion.


All students have unique identities and generations of history behind their arrival in the classroom. Ask your students to share about their ethnic identities and their family histories of migration. You can help vulnerable students feel more comfortable by setting ground rules for respectful communication, sharing about your own identity and giving a historical context for common immigration stories in your classroom community.

Help your students not only tell their stories but also to bring it to life using food, music, literature or artwork. Younger students may be better able to express their understanding of identity and family history through a creative project. Older students may want to share a homemade recipe, play recordings of music, or share a story or poetry.

Use media to broaden the horizons of your classroom

While all students have been affected by migration in one way or another, no classroom is a perfect microcosm of a diverse society. Teachers can help students understand and empathize with immigrants or members of diverse cultures by going on field trips or sharing stories using other media, such as the projects below.

Even in a multicultural student body, it can be beneficial for teachers to share immigration stories through other mediums as it can relieve minority students from the pressure of having to act as sole ambassadors for their culture and complement their stories in a different way.

Look for Common Themes

Participants in the 2019 Immigrant Student Success online workshop had the chance to share their own family histories and look for points of commonality. Whether they were newcomers themselves or their ancestors immigrated generations ago, many stories overlapped. In almost every case of voluntary migration, the search for a better life was the driving force.

Likewise, when students are able to find common ground across cultures and across histories, it can illustrate the common fears, hopes and motivations that shape the movement of people and cultures. It can also prime students to search for common ground even if it is not immediately evident when meeting new classmates, peers and even neighbors.

These strategies can be used with students of all ages, with some modification.

Young children will have a very basic understanding of their ethnicity or family immigration story. Encourage their curiosity using songs that celebrate multicultural understanding. With older students, teachers can incorporate more involved ways to develop appreciation for diversity, such as reading novels or biographies that showcase different groups.

In this video, Federico Salas-Isnardi demonstrates how to analyze for common themes.


When all students can place their own stories and identities in the context of a common narrative instead of something that sets them apart, it fosters greater self-understanding, mutual respect and curiosity about the rest of the world.

Sign up here for more information about our annual educator online workshops and other online training opportunities.