TEEN IMMIGRANTS: FIVE AMERICAN STORIES

DISCUSSION GUIDE

On PBS (Check local listings)

A half hour special from In the Mix, the award winning PBS series

As in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States is experiencing great waves of immigration—and with it, rising animosity towards newcomers. The current ethnic climate in this country has made it less of a "melting pot" and more, as one young immigrant described, "a salad bowl with lots of little chunks". Teens often cite tensions over racial and cultural differences as a common source of violent confrontations. Teen Immigrants: Five American Stories will introduce viewers to the hearts and minds behind unfamiliar faces, helping them break down negative stereotypes, celebrate diversity, and gain tolerance and understanding across lines of color and nationality. As the program educates young people on issues teen immigrants face, it also emphasizes what everyone has in common, encouraging them to interact with peers from other countries.

How to Use this Program:

Studies conducted by RMC Research on earlier In the Mix specials have shown that these programs engage the interest of teenagers, deliver information, catalyze discussion on critical issues, as well as promote analytical thinking and a greater sense of self-efficacy among teens. The aim is to encourage thought and allow teens to generate their own creative solutions.

In this guide, we have outlined specific questions based on the program’s content, with answers; these questions can be used to open up more analytical discussion about related concepts, as well as in-class activities and longer-term projects. These additional discussion topics, activities, and projects are presented in bold type.

Did you know?

In the Mix Awards

•1997 International Prix Danube for Children's Television

•1997 New York Emmy for Children's Programming

•1996 Finalist, The New York Festivals

•1994 National Emmy for Community Service Programming

•1993 Finalist, Prix Jeunesse

•1992 CPB Gold Award

Teen Immigrants: Five American Stories contains four major sections, plus a list of resources.

SECTION ONE

WHO I AM, WHY I'M HERE

1)  Who are these five young immigrants, where do they come from, and how long have they been here?

Anton, 17, moved from Russia to the U.S. when he was fifteen; Mohammed, 19, from Guinea, West Africa, emigrated in 1994; Luincys, who is 17 and moved from the Dominican Republic in 1993; Michael, 19, moved to America from China with his mother three years ago; 16 year-old Fatima is Indian and emigrated from Tanzania four years ago.

Further Discussion:

What were your first impressions of these five teens? Consider any stereotypes or pre-conceived notions of how someone of these nationalities would look and act. How are these teens different from such ideas?

Related Activity 1:

Ask students to research when their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents emigrated to the United States, and from which countries. Have students share their findings with the rest of the class or construct the beginning of a family tree with dates and places of origin. Make a list of countries represented by students in the class.

Related Activity 2:

Ask students to write about where they were born, how many different towns they’ve lived in, and what factors lead them to the town where they now live. Discuss the results as a class. How many students came to your city or town from other places? Who came from farthest away?

2)  Anton and Mohammed both talk about conditions in their native countries that contributed to them wanting to leave. What were these conditions? Why would the U.S. be a better place for them?

Anton speaks about economic problems in Russia where stores carry limited or no basic staples like bread and fruit; in the U.S., supermarkets never have a shortage of food. Mohammed describes how education in his village is based on memorizing and reciting, and punishments are sometimes physical; now that he’s in America, he can get an extensive and higher quality education.

Related Activity/Further Discussion:

Ask students to seek and clip out newspaper stories about current conditions in other countries (such as the recent earthquake in Colombia or the unrest in Yugoslavia), using these as a jumping-off point to discuss the various reasons why immigrants come to America, i.e. political, economic, religious. Prompt students to also raise specific examples from people they might see in their everyday lives (for instance, a local business owner who is a recent immigrant), friends or acquaintances, or stories in the media.

SECTION ONE

WHO I AM, WHY I’M HERE

(continued)

3)  What were some of the initial hardships these teens faced when they first arrived in America?

Luincys didn’t know when she was going to see her father again and felt like everything around her was strange; Michael and his mother had to move into a one-room apartment; Fatima started public school and was self-conscious about people staring at her; Anton had no friends and felt very alone. Difficulty with the language was a problem for everyone.

4)  How has life in America been different than Michael and his mother imagined?

many people in China assume that as soon as they leave the country, their lives will automatically get better; the truth is, even in the U.S., some people still have to work 12 to 20 hours a day to earn a living

5)  For Fatima, what is the biggest difference between life in the U.S. and life in Africa? How has she adapted to it?

in keeping with Muslim tradition, she must wear a hijab to cover her head and hair; people stare at her and make her sometimes wish she didn’t have to wear one; she’s adapted to it by accepting that it’s part of who she is and is just like everyone else in ways that matter

6)  Anton wears a "U.S. Navy Seals" t-shirt and a "Harley Davidson" jacket. Is he trying to hide the fact that he’s Russian?

no, he says he tries to be himself and wear clothes he likes, he has the same hairstyle and dress style as he did in Russia because he’s comfortable with them and wants people to know his nationality.

SECTION TWO

NEW FACES, NEW PLACES

1)  What challenges did Luincys and Mohammed first experience when they started school?

Luincys wore clothes that were different and felt out of style, she didn’t understand English and felt very small, cried, refused to go to school, and was frustrated because she wanted to do well but couldn’t. Mohammed would sit alone because he couldn't communicate with anyone, was often made fun of, and was harrassed in the park

Related Activity:

Assign students to write an essay about a time or situation when they felt different from everyone, where things around them were unfamiliar or threatening. Ask students to examine how they felt and if it affected the way they now treat people who they recognize are in similar situations.

Further Discussion:

Why are people sometimes misperceived as "stupid" if they don't speak or understand English? What frustrations have you encountered with people still learning your language? How does it make you feel?

2)  When the neighborhood kids threw stones at Mohammed, what did he conclude were there reasons for doing such a thing?

Mohammed felt it was because they didn't know him or anything about his country and culture; sometimes people are afraid of things that are unfamiliar

Further Discussion:

These kids who threw stones at Mohammed were African-American. Why would other African-Americans give him a hard time? Is there discrimination among African-Americans based on heritage and skin shades. Are there other kinds of animosity between people of the same race, based on their background?

3)  In what ways did Luincys and Fatima experience racism?

Luincys never heard words like "discrimination" and "prejudice" until she came to the U.S.; heard someone saying that all Dominicans are drug addicts; Fatima is tired of people thinking that all Muslims are terrorists, and wants them to know her as an individual.

Related Activity:

As a class, brainstorm a list of 10 to 20 nationalities. For each nationality, discuss what comes to mind when they think of that nationality. Are the thoughts positive or negative? Supportive or harmful? True or false? Where did those ideas come from? Why do people hang on to negative stereotypes?

4) How is Fatima’s school different from public school?

she learns religion and Arabic in addition to academic classes; the people around her are also Muslim and she feels more comfortable, less like a stranger

 

Further Discussion:

Do you think schools like the one Fatima attends are helpful for recent immigrants, or do they isolate them from  American culture?

5) What are some of the things Michael is struggling with in regard to living in Chinatown and with his mother?

he feels isolated from American culture in Chinatown; his mother doesn’t go into American communities and immerses herself in Chinese media; helps her by translating letters and television; he appreciates that she works hard to support him but wishes she would learn English and assimilate more

SECTION THREE

KEEPING MY COUNTRY CLOSE

1)  What does Anton criticize about other Russian immigrants?

some Russians try to insulate themselves and live in their own worlds; others try to forget Russia instead of speaking the language and eating Russian food at home so as not to lose Russian identity, like his family does.

2)  How do Luincys and Fatima see themselves in regard to their nationalities? Do they consider themselves Americans now?

Luincys says she is now fifty percent American and fifty percent Dominican; she keeps her memories of her home country and concentrates on moving on with her life; she makes American breakfasts like waffles or bagels, then eats Dominican food for lunch and dinner. Fatima goes to the movies, goes shopping, listens to hip hop and R & B, while still practicing Islam; considers herself African-Indian-American

Further discussion:

Do you think that Anton, Fatima and Luincys are truly Americans if they keep their native culture alive? Why or why not?

3) Mohammed is proud to be the first in his family to attend college, but he must make sacrifices by working for a living and to put himself through school, as well as to send money and gifts to his family. As a result, he has no free time. Do you think he regrets having to make such sacrifices? Do you respect Mohammed for his ambition, or do you feel sorry for him?

4)  How does Mohammed help himself feel like an American teenager? Do you think this works? What else could Mohammed do to feel more comfortable in the U.S.?

he tries to dress like an American by wearing baggy pants, wearing a hat backwards; tries to speak slang

Further Discussion:

What is your idea of an "American teenager"? What influence do movies, television, and advertising have on these ideas? Do you consider yourself a "typical American teen"?

Related Activity 1:

Assign each student a country from which immigrants have come to America. Their assignment is to research that country for information on any or all of the following issues: in what years did the greatest numbers emigrate to the U.S.? What was life like in that country during those years? What dreams or goals did most people have? How and where did they enter this country and where did most people choose to settle? In what ways have these immigrants contributed to American culture?

Related Activity 2:

From a list of countries from which large numbers of the U.S. population have emigrated, ask students to name as many of each country’s contributions to American culture as possible. For example, food dishes, music, film, literature, art, dance, etc.

SECTION FOUR
MY FUTURE IN AMERICA

1)  How has being in the U.S. changed Michael’s perception of China and his desire to go back someday?

freedom of speech, press, and opinion is better here; for instance, Chinese can criticize the country without repercussions; he feels that now that he has tasted that freedom, he can’t go back to the "old way"

2)  What do these teens like about the U.S.? Are they happy they emigrated?

Fatima likes the feeling that she can make her dreams come true if she works hard and wants to live in the U.S. for the rest of her life; Anton likes the freedom and the fact that people are happier here; Michael enjoys American culture, especially music, and knows he can do whatever he wants to with his life and that his life will be better than it would be in China

Further Discussion:

Have you ever thought about leaving the U.S. for another country, for school or work? Why? Have you spent an extended period of time living in another country? What did you like about that country? What was better about it, compared to the U.S.? What was worse?

What do some of these teens have planned for the future?

Luincys is thinking of becoming an American citizen and doing something that will help the community; Anton might join the U.S. Army and fight for his adopted country; Mohammed wants to become a citizen and expand his opportunities

Further Discussion:

What are some of the myths surrounding immigrants and their involvement in American society (for example, they all run convenient stores, they come here to get and stay on welfare, they don’t want to learn English)?

Further Discussion:

The dictionary defines a "patriot" as "one who loves his country and supports its authority and interests"? Do you consider yourself a patriot? What are examples of individuals or groups of people you consider great modern-day American "patriots"?

RESOURCES

 

Organizations

American Immigration Lawyers Association

1400 Eye Street, NW, Suite 1200

Washington, DC 20005

(202) 216-2400

www.aila.org

Ellis Island Immigration Museum

(212) 363-3200

(212) 363-6307 (library)

www.Ellisisland.org

Center for Immigration Research

University of Houston

492 Philip G Hoffman Hall

4800 Calhoun Road

Houston, TX 77204-3474

Phone: (713) 743-3964

Center for Immigration Studies

1522 K Street N.W., Suite 820

Washington, DC 20005-1202

(202) 466-8185

www.cis.org

 

On the World Wide Web

Perry High School’s American Dream Project

http://www.perry-lake.k12.oh.us/phs/American Experience Class/American Dream Project/dream.htm

International Organization for Migration

http://www.iom.int

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service

www.ins.usdoj.gov

 

Publications

New Kids in Town : Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens

by Janet Bode

Paperback Reprint edition (March 1995)

Scholastic Paperbacks; ISBN: 0590441442

Ellis Island and the Peopling of America: The Official Guide

by Virginia Yans-McLaughlin and Marjorie Lightman, with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

The New Press (1997)

Do People Grow on Family Trees?: Genealogy for Kids and Other Beginners

The Official Ellis Island Handbook

by Ira Wolfman, with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

Workman Publishing, 1991

For information about In the Mix, including show descriptions and schedules, visit our home on the World Wide Web at www.pbs.org/inthemix, or e-mail us at InTheMix@pbs.org.

A special Immigration Station section on our website serves as an online companion to this program, featuring more from the teens we interviewed, resources for young immigrants, a survey, an idea forum, an immigration timeline, plus news, statistics, and common myths about immigration explained.

Teen Immigrants: Five American Stories carries one-year off-air taping rights and performance rights. Check your local PBS listings for airtimes.

Videotape copies of the program can be purchased for $69.95 (plus $5.00 shipping and handling per order; includes performance rights and a Discussion Guide), and can be ordered by sending a check or purchase order to: In the Mix, 114 E. 32 Street, Suite 903, New York, NY 10016. There is a discount of $5.00 per tape on orders of any five or more In the Mix titles.

Other videos of interest to grades 7-12 are available on topics including: Depression and Suicide, Gun Violence; Computer Literacy and Careers; Self-Image and the Media; Sports Participation; Media Literacy; Activism; Alcohol and DWI; Dating Violence; Getting Into College; School to Work Transition; Careers; Relationships; AIDS; and others. For a complete catalog, call: (212) 684-3940 or (800) 597-9448, or write to us at: 114 E. 32 Street, Suite 903, New York, NY 10016, or visit www.inthemix.org.

c 1999 In the Mix. Teen Immigrants: Five American Stories is a production of Castle Works Inc. In the Mix was created by WNYC Radio. This special was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.