Three Massachusetts residents were honored Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at The Immigrant Learning Center Immigrant Heroes Award Benefit. The event paid tribute to the tremendous achievements of three honorees and to the 1.2 million immigrant essential workers in Massachusetts without whom the COVID-19 pandemic would have been much worse.
This Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting the stories of eight extraordinary women immigrants. Despite the limits that are often placed on women and immigrants, these eight pioneers have made impressive contributions in fields as varied as medicine, acting, activism and physics.
Elizabeth Blackwell, Physician / Activist, 1821 – 1910
Elizabeth Blackwell was motivated to become the first female physician in the United States by the belief that women might receive better medical care from female physicians. More than a century later, there’s research that backs up her theory. In 1849, she graduated from the only medical school that would admit a woman at the time, Geneva Medical College (a forerunner of Hobart College). She had hoped to become a surgeon, but that dream was dashed when she lost an eye to an infection she contracted from a patient. When she opened her own practice, few patients would be treated by her since women in the medical field were assumed to be abortionists. Despite these setbacks, Blackwell succeeded in opening the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, which still operates today as the not-for-profit New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.
Blackwell was also active in various reform movements, including campaigns for women’s rights and better preventive medicine. She even collaborated with Florence Nightingale and other prominent women in medicine to found the first medical school for women in her native England. Blackwell’s accomplishments have been honored with a statue at her alma mater, induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and a Google Doodle on her 197th birthday.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Activist, 1837 – 1930
Marry Harris Jones was a troublemaker. She made what Rep. John Lewis would have called “good trouble.” In fact, a prosecutor labeled 65-year-old Jones “the most dangerous woman in the country” when she was jailed for speaking at a meeting of striking mine workers. She found her life’s work as a labor activist in middle age and adopted the name “Mother Jones” as a reflection of the protectiveness she felt for the much younger workers she championed. She had lost her own children and husband to yellow fever many years prior.
Jones was a child when she and her family immigrated to Canada during the Irish Potato Famine. She came to the United States as an adult to work. It was the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that sparked her interest in labor organizing after destroying her business and much of Chicago. While helping to rebuild Chicago, Jones joined a labor federation and became steadily more involved in organizing labor strikes. Her work spread from Chicago across the country giving speeches, organizing on behalf of unionizing efforts and encouraging striking workers. Jones was so relentless that for some time she had no permanent address. She attracted national attention when she organized the “March of the Mill Children,” a march of child millworkers to President Roosevelt’s doorstep. Almost a century after she began her work, a group of journalists chose her name to represent their new, progressive-oriented magazine, Mother Jones.
Chien-Shiung Wu, Physicist, 1912 – 1997
Chien-Shiung Wu was christened the “First Lady of Physics” for her extraordinary accomplishments in the field, which included work on the atom bomb and a discovery that many think should have garnered her a Nobel Prize. After immigrating from China, Wu attended Berkeley University, where she obtained a PhD in physics. Despite the sexism and anti-Asian prejudice of the World War II era, she was so productive in the field that she was recruited for the Manhattan Project. Her research proved key in the United States’ successful effort to create an atomic bomb. Wu is best known for her experiment proving that during beta decay the “law of conservation of parity” does not apply, a significant development in the study of atoms. Her work was controversially passed over for a Nobel Prize, though others who worked on the project were recognized. Some believe that this was because of her gender. Over the course of her career, Wu became the first female president of the American Physical Society, the first female winner of the Wolf Prize in Physics and first female recipient of an honorary degree from Princeton University. She capitalized on her success to call for better treatment of women in science, famously asking an MIT symposium, “whether the tiny atoms and nuclei or the mathematical symbols or the DNA molecules have any preference for either masculine or feminine treatment.”
Hedy Lamarr, Actress / Inventor, 1914 – 2000
Are you using your WiFi or Bluetooth to read this story? You might have Hedy Lamarr to thank. She is best known for her high-profile career as an actress in the Golden Age of Hollywood, but her engineering accomplishments, which led to the development of such technologies, are arguably her greatest legacy. Lamarr was born in Austria to a wealthy, Jewish family. In 1937, she moved to London, fleeing both an abusive husband and the advance of Nazism. There she met Louis B. Mayer, the co-founder of MGM who was born to a poor, Jewish family in Russia. Mayer offered her an acting contract in Hollywood. Lamarr’s film career took off quickly, with magazines heralding her as “the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Privately, Lamarr nurtured her passion for inventing despite her lack of formal education. She even volunteered to join the National Inventors Council during WWII, but she was directed to campaign for war bonds instead. After hearing about radio-controlled torpedoes being jammed, Lamarr and her friend George Antheil co-developed and patented a “secret communication system” for “frequency hopping” to prevent the enemy from blocking radio waves. The military never used her idea as she intended, but the concept she invented was fundamental to the development of technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. During her life, Lamarr was mostly known for her film roles playing glamorous women, but in 2014 she was posthumously given the recognition she deserved for her intellect when she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. As Lamarr once said, “The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Psychiatrist / Activist, 1926 – 2004
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ adolescence in World War II-era Europe heavily influenced her groundbreaking work creating the five stages of grief model and revolutionizing end-of-life care. Her relief work as a young person exposed her to concentration camp survivors and severely wounded refugees, sparking an interest in caring for the ill, injured and dying. Kubler-Ross immigrated to the United States from Switzerland to study psychiatry. When she worked in a hospital as a psychiatric resident, she was horrified by the disregard she saw for patients with terminal diagnoses, then referred to as “hopeless patients.” The new protocol she developed for treating dying patients significantly improved their mental health in 94 percent of cases. Kubler-Ross went on to create the theory of the five stages of grief, which suggests that grieving people experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Her work helped create a dramatic transformation in hospice care in the United States. Her efforts were timely, popularizing the idea of organized and compassionate end-of-life care shortly before the onset of the AIDS crisis. Kubler-Ross attempted to create a hospice for abandoned children and infants with AIDS, but locals protested and her home was burned down in a possible arson attack. When her health declined, Kubler-Ross declared that she was ready to accept her own death, memorably stating in an interview that, “I told God last night that he’s a damned procrastinator.”
Isabel Allende, Writer, 1942 –
Isabel Allende, the world’s best-read Spanish-language writer, was born into a privileged Chilean family. After General Augusto Pinochet overthrew President Salvador Allende, Isabel Allende’s uncle, her family and their peers found themselves facing political persecution. Allende helped smuggle families who were targeted by the dictatorship out of the country and was eventually forced to flee to Venezuela herself. While in Venezuela, she worked as a reporter but didn’t gain widespread recognition as a writer until she turned to novels. Her debut book, The House of Spirits, began as a letter to her dying grandfather in Chile, whom she couldn’t visit without risking political violence. The House of Spirits was a breakthrough triumph, receiving enormous critical acclaim and commercial success.
Allende moved to the United States in 1987 and continued writing many novels, memoirs and essays. She is an outspoken feminist focused on women and girls in the developing world. Her TED Talk on creativity and feminism has been viewed more than 120,000 times. Allende’s books have sold more than 74 million copies around the world in more than 40 languages. After her daughter died tragically young, she started the Isabel Allende Foundation in her honor to support women and girls in both the United States and Chile. In recognition of her work, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
Grace Jones, Model / Singer / Icon, 1948 –
What do Madonna, Björk, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga have in common? According to Kyle Munzenrieder of W magazine, they have all “taken more than a few pages from her [Grace Jones’] playbook.” Jones came to the United States with her family from Jamaica while she was a child. She started her modeling career at 18 and quickly became known for her androgynous style, angular features and dark skin. Although none of these features were considered popular or desirable by a mainstream audience at the time, Jones’ unique look captured people’s imagination. Jones launched her music during the height of the disco era, and she quickly became a notable figure in disco culture. As the times changed, so did her music, moving into new wave, reggae and pop styles.
Jones broke gender and racial barriers that many others have walked through. Music critic Barry Walters wrote of her influence, “Her image celebrated blackness and subverted gender norms.” For all the famous, successful people she has inspired, Jones told The New York Times in 2015 that she doesn’t find imitation the highest form of flattery because her “whole view is being unique and finding yourself.” From her first job as a model to her 2021 concert tour, perhaps Jones’ greatest influence has been inspiring people to be themselves.
For more stories of extraordinary Black immigrants, check out our Black History Month blog post featuring seven famous immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.
Salma Hayek, Actress / Producer, 1966 –
Salma Hayek’s career as an actor and producer has broken ground for Latinas and Arab-American women, but her bravery in speaking up and exposing sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry has impacted women of all backgrounds in all walks of life. Most famously, she publicly shared her experiences with Harvey Weinstein in the first months of the #MeToo movement, writing that, “Men sexually harassed because they could. Women are talking today because, in this new era, we finally can.”
As a telenovela star in her mid-20s, Salma Hayek took the enormous risk of moving from Mexico to the United States to advance her acting career despite her lack of connections and limited English. She struggled with Hollywood directors who found casting a Mexican-American lead “inconceivable” and visa problems that briefly left her undocumented. Her unrelenting efforts paid off when she produced and played the lead in her film Frida about the famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Hayek led the film to critical and commercial success and garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Since then, she has focused on producing and acting in projects that highlight the Latinx experience including the movie In the Time of the Butterflies and the television show Ugly Betty. Hayek’s father is Lebanese-Mexican, a background she says makes her “very proud.” Her forthcoming part in the Marvel movie Eternals will make her the first Arab-American actor and one of the first Latinas to have a major role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
All Women Immigrants Deserve Recognition
Many of these famous women immigrants struggled to receive the recognition they earned. Countless more have made contributions to the United States that still go unrecognized. Women and immigrants have always been well-represented in health care and education, but this essential work is often underappreciated. This Women’s History Month, we encourage you to use these stories as a jumping off point to explore the stories of women and immigrants who historical narratives often leave out.
On March 12, 2020, we sent all of our students home and suspended in-person classes. I never could have imagined that we’d still be relying on online classes one year later. Thanks to the support of people like you, our students have barely missed a day of classes.
Andrea is one of our online students from Brazil. She works for the U.S. Postal Service. Those postal workers who kept the mail coming last year all seem like heroes to me, but you were Andrea’s hero. Being an essential worker in the middle of a pandemic isn’t easy. Not knowing enough English to communicate with your coworkers makes it even harder. With your support, Andrea was able to improve her English in The ILC classes, and she says, “Now I know very much.”
In honor of immigrant essential workers like Andrea, The Immigrant Learning Center will be hosting a virtual Immigrant Heroes Award Benefit on Tuesday, April 6 at 5:30 PM EDT.
In addition to sharing stories like Andrea’s, we will be honoring immigrants who have founded a not-for-profit, enabled cheaper, faster COVID-19 testing, and rose to the challenge of 2020 in many other ways.
I hope to “see” you there.
Founder and CEO
The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc.
Could you pass the civics test to become a United States citizen? To pass, new Americans must learn the answers to 128 questions about American history and government. They also must navigate an incredibly complex system of paperwork, interviews and more.
Our Citizenship Class sets our students up for success by helping them with every step of the process, from learning the 128 answers to understanding legal terms to finding parking near their testing center. We’ve never seen success like this before. Last December our student, Jaime from El Salvador, passed the interview and exam in the morning and was sworn in as a new citizen in the afternoon!
Jaime isn’t just a new citizen. According to him, he’s part of a new family.
“I would like to tell you that all the teachers at The ILC are beautiful, they’re beautiful persons. They’re people who will always ask you about how you’re feeling, how you’re doing, how your family is, how you’re doing with your job. Other schools wouldn’t do that. The ILC is different because they make you feel like you’re part of their family.”
You’re part of the family too. Without your support, there would be no “ILC family.” Thank you for your ongoing support to help future Americans achieve their dreams.
Founder and CEO
The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc.
When new Americans become citizens, they are asked if they will perform work of “national importance.” For Luz this was more than a theoretical promise. She’s been doing work of national importance since the pandemic hit. As a cleaner in a hospital, she has put herself at risk to help others stay safe, and she was proud to have the opportunity to fulfill her responsibility.
It was a hard road to becoming a citizen. Luz juggled multiple jobs while learning English and practicing for the citizenship exam. By supporting The Immigrant Learning Center, you were right by her side. In addition to the practical skills, it helped to know she had a place where people cared about and supported her.
After more than 20 years in the country, Luz is excited to be a citizen. She likes that the United States is safer than Colombia, her country of origin. She also liked being able to vote for the first time. When the pandemic is over, Luz is going to return to The Immigrant Learning Center to improve her English. Despite having already obtained her citizenship, she’s passionate about continuing to learn. This Thanksgiving, we were grateful for your support, which allows her to fulfill that passion.
Thank you, always, for your continued generosity,
Diane Portnoy, The ILC CEO and Founder
With thousands of options to choose from, do you still find yourself thinking, “there’s nothing to watch”? Maybe it’s because there are so many options that it’s hard to find the ones worth watching. Choose wisely. Just like the old adage, “you are what you eat,” the media we consume can influence who we become and how we see the world.
Research by the Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project at USC Annenberg demonstrated that by and large immigrant characters on television don’t reflect reality. Instead, they tend to reinforce false stereotypes, distorting audiences’ understanding of the immigrant experience. Follow up research by Define American further showed that what we watch can influence our attitudes toward immigrants and even our behavior.
The good news is that it’s not all “junk food.” Despite a long history of immigrant characters being played by non-immigrants who don’t share their genuine accent, background or even ethnicity, more and more immigrants are able to tell their own, authentic stories. Instead of Mickey Rooney’s “yellowface” depiction of I. Y. Yunioshi Breakfast at Tiffiany’s, we have Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever.
To help you find those authentic stories, we have compiled a watchlist of comedies, dramas and documentaries that prominently feature immigrants and immigration storylines in film and TV. From goofy sitcoms to children’s animated shorts to intense docudramas, these stories highlight immigrants in a diverse set of contexts and perspectives. Happy viewing!
An American Tail
An American Tail is a great introduction to 19th century immigration for children. When the “Mousekewitzes,” a family of animated mice living in Russia, move to the U.S., they deal with sweatshops, poverty and family separation. A band of villainous cats provide an allegory for oppression and bigotry for the mouse heroes. These tough topics become more palatable and accessible for children when filtered through the fun, friendly animation.
Several generations of a Jewish Polish family wrestle with assimilation, family conflict and the American Dream in mid-20th century Baltimore. This film sensitively portrays both the cultural and the intergenerational differences that arise as the family chases prosperity and security. It also serves as a prequel to the movies Diner and Tin Men but focuses more closely on the immigrant experience.
This film, starring Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, follows an Irish immigrant to 1950s Brooklyn. Like many young women, she sets out in search of work and a better life but finds there are more obstacles than she expected. The film balances its portrayal of the residents of New York City, who are in turn inhospitable and supportive. It’s a family-friendly introduction to mid-century European immigration to the United States.
The Joy Luck Club
Based on the classic book by Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club traces the lives of four women who have immigrated from China and their daughters. By interweaving flashbacks to the lives of the women before they came to the U.S., the movie helps the viewer understand the push and pull factors that lead to immigration, as well as the challenges that are faced by people after they arrive. It also focuses on the unique experiences, challenges and strengths of female immigrants.
Man Push Cart
A Pakistani immigrant struggles to make a living from a food cart in post-9/11 New York City. The film was praised by reviewers for its observational and realistic approach, giving the audience the impression that they’re peeking into the life of a real person. This film avoids idealizing or stereotyping its lead. It intentionally avoids the “exceptional immigrant” trope, instead encouraging the audience to respect a man performing menial labor for little respect or pay.
Fans of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake will also enjoy this adaptation. Ashoke and Ashima are immigrants to New York from India, but their son, Gogol, feels largely cut off from his Indian heritage. His conflicting desires to push away and embrace his culture make up the core of this film. The Namesake offers a strong depiction of the tension between assimilating to a new culture and retaining a heritage culture.
The famous graphic novel Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, was adapted into a feature-length animated film in 2007. Marjane, the Iranian protagonist, chafes under a regressive Iranian regime and longs for freedom, culminating in a move to the United States. This is an excellent film for exploring the variety of “push factors” that can lead immigrants to leave their countries of origin. This film is animated but not for children, as it explores both sexuality and violence under a totalitarian government.
The Sun is Also a Star
The Sun is Also a Star integrates the topic of immigration into a teen romance drama. Natasha is an undocumented immigrant about to be deported with her family to Jamaica. Daniel is falling in love with her. The teens have a short window to navigate family conflicts, their personal differences and an unforgiving immigration system. This is a great film for building empathy with a capable, likeable protagonist who happens to be undocumented, especially for teens who might relate to the teen leads.
Under the Same Moon
In this movie, a child immigrates from Mexico to the United States by himself to rejoin his mother. Along the way, he encounters both people who seek to take advantage of him and people who seek to help him. While told from the perspective of a child, this film deals with some heavier themes and is more appropriate for older kids.
This Pixar short was designed as a metaphor for the family immigration story of the writer and creator, Edwin Chang. A child and his grandmother live at the bottom of a deep chasm and plan their escape. The grandmother must make sacrifices to ensure her grandson can have a better life. Wind is a fanciful introduction to immigration and children might have to unpack it with an adult in order to grasp the themes.
Three generations of a Korean-American immigrant family attempt to start a farm in the 1980s. They struggle with the land, their new, mostly white community, and the intergenerational and intercultural conflicts within their family. Minari shares an underrepresented chapter of Asian-American history.
Bob Hearts Abishola
This sitcom follows Bob, a U.S.-born entrepreneur, who falls in love with Abishola, a Nigerian-born nurse, after she cares for him following a heart attack. The show mines their cultural differences for humor, but respects both characters’ and their families’ beliefs. Bob Hearts Abishola is a rare depiction of Black immigrants, who are infrequently represented in media despite making up one in 10 Black Americans.
Fresh off the Boat
Based on Eddie Huang’s memoir Fresh off the Boat, this sitcom follows a pair of immigrants from Taiwan as they navigate raising children and starting a “cowboy-themed” restaurant in Florida. The show is sympathetic and thoughtful in its portrayal of the perspectives of both the immigrant parents and the more “Americanized” children. Issues of assimilation and representation are prominent. When this sitcom premiered in 2015, it was only the second U.S. sitcom to focus on an Asian-American family.
Jane the Virgin
The American remake of the popular Venezuelan telenovela features three generations of a Venezuelan-American family in Florida. The culture clash between the traditional, immigrant matriarch, Alba, and her more Americanized child and grandchild is a central plotline of the show. Alba’s slow, difficult progression toward achieving her citizenship was praised in particular by Opportunity Agenda for both its realism and how it didn’t wholly define her multi-dimensional character.
A Korean-American immigrant family running a convenience store may sound stereotypical, but this Canadian sitcom shows the full humanity behind the archetype. The characters wrestle with cultural differences, discrimination, family conflict and more while keeping the family store afloat. The show is adapted from a play of the same name, written by Ins Choi, himself an immigrant from Korea to Canada. Choi called the story a “love letter to [his] parents and to all first-generation immigrants who call Canada their home.”
This anthology show, created in part by actor and immigrant from India Kumail Nanjiani, sets out to depict a diverse set of immigrant narratives based on true stories. Eight half-hour episodes follow eight different immigrants through important chapters in their lives. Characters include the child of deported business owners, a gay Syrian refugee seeking safety, and a Chinese mother wrestling with her and her family’s understanding of the American Dream. The show made headlines when, in a moment of political resonance, filming had to be reworked to accommodate a Syrian actor who was unable to come to the U.S. to work under current immigration policy.
Master of None
Stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show features a diverse array of characters, including the main character’s parents, immigrants from India, and a friend whose parents immigrated from Taiwan. Ansari, who plays the lead, dedicates a standout episode, “Parents,” to exploring the migration stories of his father and his friend’s father. Children of immigrants watching the show responded to the episode with enthusiasm, saying that they had “never seen anything so relatable on television before.” It’s a story that rings unsurprisingly true, given that Ansari cast his own mother and father in the parental roles.
Never Have I Ever
Mindy Kaling’s semi-autobiographical Netflix show follows the daughter of Indian immigrants as she navigates sex, adolescence and the loss of her father. In an interview, the showrunner described having a writers’ room with multiple children of immigrants who contributed authentic anecdotes and details to make the story more compelling. This show has the potential to be a funny, relatable story that could connect teenagers with an experience removed from their own.
One Day at a Time
This Netflix reboot of the classic 1970s sitcom focuses on three generations of a Cuban-American family, the matriarch of which is an immigrant. The show depicts a loving, close-knit family wrestling with issues of mental illness, addiction and sexuality. Fans launched a campaign to save the show after Netflix cancelled it, citing its compelling and unfortunately rare depiction of a Latinx family, leading to the show’s resurrection on Pop TV. It can serve as a lighthearted introduction to the immigrant experience.
Party of Five
The writers of Party of Five updated the premise of the classic 1970s television show in this reboot. Instead of losing their parents in a car accident, the five Accosta siblings are left adrift when their parents are deported. Family separation is a hot button issue, and this series sensitively depicts the human fallout of the family’s rift. The show aired just one season before getting cancelled, but it packed a lot of thoughtful discussion of contemporary immigration issues in its 10 episodes.
Ramy features a family of Muslim, Egyptian immigrants living in New Jersey. Ramy, the title character, grapples with coming of age as a millennial, immigrant Muslim-American. Over the course of the series, he struggles to reconcile his faith, sexuality and family traditions. Creator Ramy Youssef, himself a child of Egyptian immigrants, plays the title role. He also shares the focus with the rest of his fictionalized family, giving a more Americanized, feminist sister and a closeted uncle opportunities to share their perspectives on the Muslim immigrant experience.
Kal Penn, the son of Indian immigrants, created a sitcom that follows a group of immigrants in New York City. He also stars, drawing on his real-life political experience working in President Obama’s administration to portray a disgraced former politician attempting to regain political favor by coaching former constituents on their paths to becoming citizens. The show balances goofy fish out of water humor with the very real perils the immigrant students face, including poverty, discrimination and ICE enforcement.
Superstore is a kooky workplace sitcom that takes on some big topics. Fan-favorite character Mateo, played by Nico Santos, is a queer, undocumented, Filipino immigrant whose ongoing search for stability and legal status becomes a prominent plot thread. Santos, a gay Filipino immigrant himself, says he received an outpouring of messages from people who saw themselves in his character. In interviews, Superstore writers have discussed reaching out to immigrants and immigration professionals to refine their plotlines. The show isn’t afraid to get overtly political, but the focus remains on portraying the characters as full, funny human beings.
The lead of this NBC medical drama is a Syrian refugee. When Dr. Bashir flees Syria for Canada, he’s stuck working in the kitchen of a Middle Eastern restaurant before a chance encounter with an injured hospital worker lets him prove his medical skills. Even once he returns to working in a hospital, the show takes care to explore his struggles as a doctor in a new culture and the challenges he faces as a refugee. The show captures the reality that immigrants are overrepresented in both the food and health care industry, as well as the uphill battle many immigrants face in translating their education and credentials to a new country.
Documentaries and Docuseries:
I Learn America
I Learn America is a kid-friendly introduction to five children of immigrants adapting to their new country. Facing History and Ourselves developed an accompanying learning guide to help students learn from the film. The film and its supplemental educational materials prioritizes “youth-led” storytelling. This documentary is aimed at young people but could also be helpful for teachers seeking to better understand and serve their immigrant students.
This two hour Frontline documentary delves into the policy side of immigration. It aired in 2015, and therefore doesn’t cover many key developments in the immigration landscape since then, but it provides a clear-eyed look at how immigration policy is shaped and settled behind closed doors. Unlike most of the films listed here, it focuses more on the policymakers who shape immigration policy than the immigrants affected by it.
Documentarians embedded within Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) for years to capture this series’ footage. The mechanics of the organization’s enforcement actions are shown from start to finish in stark, sometimes upsetting detail, and the human cost is evident. This series is appropriate for anyone seeking to understand how contemporary immigration practices are carried out.
Liberty: Mother of Exiles
This feature-length film traces the history of American immigration through the history of the Statue of Liberty. The famous figurehead has been a symbol of welcome and a site of protests, both of which the film examines thoughtfully. The documentary also explores the meaning of the poem inscribed on the statue’s base, “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus, from which the film derives its name: “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame / Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name / Mother of Exiles.”
This series follows eight undocumented immigrants in the U.S. It also interviews immigration attorneys who tackle common questions about undocumented immigrants, like, “Why don’t they come the right way and get in line?”. In a piece for Time magazine, Selena Gomez shared that she was drawn to join the project as a producer because members of her own family came to the U.S. without documentation and she recognized their stories in the footage she was shown.
The New Americans
PBS’s seven-part documentary series takes an unusual approach, offering minimal narration or interviews as it tracks the lives of immigrants over four years. Instead, the immigrants to the United States are observed at work, at home and over the course of the rest of their daily lives, affording the viewer an intimate and personal look at their experiences. It doesn’t explicitly delve into politics or policy, instead creating a humanizing chronicle of individual lives.
Strangers in Town
For anyone looking for a portrayal of what it means to be a “welcoming community,” this film could provide some answers. Garden City, Kansas was challenged and ultimately strengthened by several unexpected waves of migration. The response of U.S.-born residents runs the gamut, but the benefits of welcoming their new neighbors becomes clear.
Four undocumented immigrant teens collaborated in an underwater robot competition, went up against a team from MIT and won. This documentary film follows their progress, setbacks and eventual triumph. It’s a warm, inspiring look at the contributions and accomplishments of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The story was also the inspiration for the fictionalized film Spare Parts.
Filmmaker Theo Rigby followed six DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, also known as Dreamers, as they work, learn and pursue their dreams. The film provides an intimate look at a group of young people who are often treated like political pawns. To learn more about the project, watch our webinar with Rigby as he shares stories and discusses how teachers can use this material in the classroom or curriculum.
A new, free resource, Welcome to the New World Curriculum and Learning Guide, is now available for teachers who are looking for engaging ways to teach about timely issues like migration, refugees and the Syrian Civil War.
It takes a special kind of courage to sign up to work in health care during a pandemic. But Renata, an immigrant from Brazil, wasn’t worried about herself when she applied for a home health aide position. “I work with elderly people,” she explained. “I worried about getting them sick.”
Before she could start working in health care, however, Renata had to overcome two hurdles: learning English and successfully applying for a job. The Immigrant Learning Center helped with both. She used to be “very shy” about her English but improved quickly in our English classes. Renata said it helped her feel “less ashamed” of her language skills.
Renata worked in a hospital in Brazil and is excited to care for people again in the United States. Once she was ready, Renata applied for a job as a home health aide. When she needed a reference, she didn’t know where to turn. “I don’t know the people here. Everyone I know, it’s Brazilians,” she explained. She asked her “amazing” English teacher, Anna, for help. Anna happily agreed to be a reference, and with a recommendation from her instructor, she got the job.
Renata is very grateful for the help that you made possible. Although she isn’t taking classes with The ILC right now, she’s planning on returning. Her English has improved significantly, and she’s preparing for a new goal. After several years in the U.S., she’s ready to be a citizen. With your support, we’re looking forward to welcoming Renata into our specialized Citizenship Class.
Thank you, always, for your continued generosity,
Founder and CEO
The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc.
Spice Bridge is helping build the businesses of female immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs in the food industry. Through their incubator program, Spice Bridge is bringing new foods to the community and financial stability to immigrant families.