ethnicity

Lit-up sign by the road that reads, US Border Patrol.
Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, Flickr CC

Teaching about immigration can be tough because students come to our classrooms with the battle lines already drawn and believing their minds are already made up. We know, for example, that “the border” occupies a large conceptual space in our collective minds and that certain racialized populations suffer from perceptions of illegality. I have successfully re-centered my classroom conversation in a more constructive direction by starting with something most students seem to have a complete lack of information about: how the U.S. immigration system actually works.

Below I share some resources and
ideas for leading an hour long discussion on “everything you wanted to know
about the immigration system but were afraid to ask.” The activity below would
be a great fit for any course where you are going to spend several class days
on migration in the United States: Global Sociology, Social Problems, Migration,
Race & Ethnicity, or Crime & Deviance. This activity is intended to take
advantage of the fact that a classroom is a special place designated for
learning, where everyone (including the instructor) can always learn something
new without feeling embarrassed of our ignorance.

Materials:

You bring:

  • White board and marker
  • Projector/internet/resources to look at a
    website in class
  • Links to resources on immigration you want to
    show (suggested below)
  • You’ll probably want a printed copy of the
    immigration preferences and especially yearly numerical limits
    handy for
    your own reference (you may also want a few extra copies to pass around)

Students bring:

In-Class Activity

  1. Ask students what questions they have about the immigration system. Write the questions on the white board as students say them out loud.
  2. When you have a good number of questions on the board, including some basic ones, start with the most basic questions and begin answering them. Do this based on your own knowledge and, when helpful or necessary, show the students the immigration preference system and yearly numerical limits. Other resources for answering the questions can be found at the American Immigration Council Immigration 101 and, of course, the Department of Homeland Security. The fact that the DHS website is a bit complex and it may be hard to find the answer to many of the students’ questions is OK; that will be educational and make the larger point about the immigration system.
  3. Ask if anyone has ever traveled to another country. Ask the student(s) who answers where it was, what happened when they entered that country, whether they needed a passport, etc. Prompt the group to think about what would happen in the converse situation if a person from that country came into the United States. Would the same kind of situation occur? (It is important at some point in this conversation to encourage students to get at the fact that the U.S. has more power internationally than anyone else; we can go almost anywhere without applying for a visa in advance but the opposite is not true. This fact is invisible to most of us.)
  4. If there are other questions that seem essential to you, prompt the students to ask them or ask the students yourself to see if anyone knows the answer. It is essential to this exercise that your class understands that for the vast majority of migrants to the United States, there is not only no “legal path to citizenship,” there is no legal path to entry. I have found by having these discussions that most of my students did not understand the difference between citizenship and visas.

Discussion Tip

As you are standing in front of the room fielding questions, be sure to remember to acknowledge that some folks in the room may have more knowledge of the system (e.g., international or immigrant students), but do not make anyone feel as if they need to speak about their experiences or act as though they are experts. I think it is enough to say that of course some of us may have experienced this first hand. Some migrant or international faculty may talk about their own experiences while others may want to avoid that. It is my own belief that those of us who are white and U.S. born should take on the task of teaching these lessons so that others are not put in the awkward position of fielding these potentially hostile or awkward questions on their own.

Possible Variations

One way to vary this activity
would be to assign the questions to different groups in the class and have each
group research the answers on the Department of Homeland Security website. A
possible pitfall of this is that many of the answers can be a little detailed,
confusing, and interrelated, so the instructor would need to keep an eye on
making sure there is plenty of time for debriefing and not too much time spent
in the groups.

It is also a great idea to spend a little time either at the beginning or end of this class period simply learning about the experiences of undocumented migrants in the United States. This can be done through a video like this one or assigning a reading; if done in advance, a video or reading could be a great way to get the questions for this activity started with some curiosity toward learning more about what we don’t understand about immigration status.

Additional Resources

“Drop the I Word”
resources for help discussing why “illegal” is not an appropriate term in a
sociology classroom (or journalism)

Visual
example of the Latinx experience
from SocImages

Contexts “in brief” on the additional stresses experienced by undocumented parents

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of
marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots
communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more
of Meg’s writing at
The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

Is “Latino” a race or an ethnicity? As sociologists, we are quick to refer to “Latino” as an ethnicity, but will just as easily include “Latino” as a racial category next to “White,” “Black,” and “Asian.” So, which is it? And why does it matter?obligation

Wendy D. Roth tackles this question in her recent special feature on The Society Pages “Creating a ‘Latino’ Race.” This feature would be a great addition to any discussion of race and ethnicity in the United States and how those categories have evolved over time for White, Asian and Latino immigrants and citizens. This topic would be ideal for the first weeks of a course on Race and Ethnicity or to introduce the topic in an Intro to Sociology class. This would also be a good topic for a Research Methods class when discussing how we classify racial categories and why this practice can be controversial.

Use the following activity in class to get a conversation going about race, ethnicity and Latino identity:

First, hand out an example of the Census questions on race and ethnicity. Have students fill them out on their own. Then ask:

1. Did you feel that the available categories on this form lined up with your own racial and ethnic identity? Why or why not?

2. Do you think that having “Hispanic” as an ethnicity and not a race makes sense? Why or why not?

3. What benefits do you see to having “Hispanic” listed as an ethnicity? What drawbacks?

4. What might you change about this form if you could? Do you believe there are better ways to classify people racially?

 

Then, start a conversation about Roth’s finding using these questions:

1. According to Roth’s research, how is the way that Puerto Rican and Dominican migrants understand race and ethnicity quite different from how Americans traditionally think of race and distinguish it from ethnicity?

2. When Latino immigrants come to the United States, how do they fit into the racial classifications already in place (now and in the past)? How do these classifications not line up with how they identify themselves?

3. According to Roth’s finding, how does the experience of Latinos in the United States differ based on skin color? What does this say about race and racism in the United States?

4. Why have many Latino immigrants seen it as advantageous to remain “bicultural” instead of “passing” for (non-Hispanic) white?

5. Why is the Latino race/ethnicity question a controversial topic? Why does it matter if Latino people are understood as an “ethnicity” or as a “race” by the US government? What might this potential change mean for Latino Americans? How would such a change disrupt notions of strict racial categories held by many Americans?

 

A group of graduate students at the University of Minnesota put together these fantastic resources on teaching race, ethnicity, and migration.

The Global REM Teaching Modules are a set of teaching resources related to Global R(ace) E(thnicity) and M(igration). Modules are appropriate for use in high school classrooms, and introductory college-level courses. Each teaching module includes a brief introduction to the topic, source materials, discussion questions, and suggested readings. These modules provide busy instructors with a series of comprehensive and organized 50-minute lesson plans for facilitating learning related to global race, ethnicity, and migration. At the same time, they are flexible enough to provide instructors room to use the modules in ways appropriate to the particular aims of their own course themes.

The main objectives of the Global REM Teaching Modules:

  1. To improve students’ research skills by encouraging them to utilize and analyze a variety of source materials
  2. To increase use of source materials related to issues of race, ethnicity, and migration, particularly in a global and/or comparative context
  3. To foster interdisciplinary thinking and to incorporate a wide range of disciplinary perspectives and methods in the classroom
  4. To provide busy teaching assistants and instructors with ready-made lesson plans for 50-minute class periods. The modules are especially designed for teaching assistants and instructors who may not have an expertise in race, ethnicity, and migration but aim to augment discussion of global issues related to these topics

The teaching modules were developed by an interdisciplinary team of graduate students in 2007, and are maintained by the Institute for Global Studies and the Immigration History Research Center. If you have questions or comments about the teaching modules, you may direct them to outreach@umn.edu.