At the April 2018 meeting of the Organization of American Historians, IEHS hosted a chat on supporting students who are immigrants featuring Ana Elizabeth Rosas (University of California, Irvine) and Rachel Ida Buff (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee). The lunchtime session was an OAH experiment in bringing conference attendees together to discuss professional issues in an informal setting so that we as teachers, scholars, and colleagues can learn from each other. We had a lively exchange, with the small group of participants bringing their own experiences to the conversation and learning from two particularly engaged scholars.
Ana Rosas, author of Abrazando El Espiritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border (University of California Press, 2014), shared insights from a project she has directed at UCI that involves her students in writing “emotive” histories of undocumented immigration. Against the backdrop of hostile rhetoric, threats against immigrants and intensified border enforcement from the Trump administration, she sought ways that would allow her students and their families to share what was meaningful about immigration without replicating the narrative structure and documentation form used by enforcement authorities. At the OAH session, Ana emphasized how alienating traditional oral histories can be. She adopted a curatorial approach, guiding students through collecting stories based on material objects with emotional significance.
Rachel Ida Buff, who most recently published Against the Deportation Terror: Organizing for Immigrant Rights in the Twentieth Century in 2017, talked about her advocacy for policies that make education accessible to immigrant students. She recommended that faculty reach out to and connect with university staff who support students, who may be more aware of student needs and can help us as faculty members better support our students within the classroom.
Many of us are concerned about heightened anxiety among students, and we discussed methods for building empathy and representation in the classroom, as well as the challenges of working in different types of institutions with different demographics, resources, and challenges. Both Dr. Rosas and Dr. Buff recommended Reyna Grande’s novel Across 100 Mountains (2007) to generate discussion about contemporary migration from Mexico to the United States and suggested that partnerships with community groups could be fruitful and important. .
Given the continuing hostility towards immigrants and international students coming from the administration – including the Supreme Court’s decision this last week to uphold Trump’s Muslim ban – these are issues that we as immigration scholars and history teachers will continue to face in our classrooms. We hope we can find more opportunities to share ideas, resources, and work together to support all of our students.
Alison Clark Efford (PhD, Ohio State, 2008) is an historian of immigration and the nineteenth-century United States at Marquette University. Her first book, German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era (Cambridge University Press, 2013), explored how German Americans contributed to the rise and fall of white commitment to black rights. She is the editor of the Immigration and Ethnic History Newsletter.