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Building Belonging through the Power of Migration Stories

June 15, 2023

Building Belonging through the Power of Migration Stories

Learn how the power of migration stories can positively shape our communities and classrooms to be places of understanding and belonging.

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June is Immigrant History Month, a time to reflect on the history of immigration to the United States. Immigration and migration stories are an integral part of the American story. They shape our communities, classrooms and families. However, too often, these stories go unheard. That's why initiatives like Carola Suárez-Orzco’s Moving Stories Project are so important.

Moving Stories is a project that encourages students to share their migration stories with their peers. The goal is to promote empathy and connection, and to reduce prejudice. By sharing their stories, students can learn from one another and develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their communities.

Kathryn Tepedino, an English language development teacher in Morristown, N.J., recognized the need for her immigrant students to connect with their American-born peers. After participating in a Re-Imagining Migration workshop  where she used the Moving Stories protocol, she developed a unit that culminated in students from coming together to share their migration stories. Despite initial resistance, the project was a success. Students learned from one another and developed new friendships.

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Tepedino explains:

“After the interviews, the conversation continued, and it was so lovely. I think [the students] realized they had a lot more in common than they thought. They were making comments like, ‘We need more of this. We need to do this next year. We say we have such a diverse school, but really, we don’t really interact so much with one another.’ So, they’re craving it.

“When I saw my students interacting with the more mainstream students, they were saying, ‘Thank you. I made a new friend.’ It was just a beautiful thing for me. It was probably the most meaningful day of my teaching career. My heart is just exploding.”

You can find a model Moving Stories unit on the Share My Lesson website.

Creating a Safe Space for Sharing Stories

If stories are to be effective in building belonging, it is important to create a safe space for story sharing. This means creating an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their experiences without fear of judgment or criticism or that their stories would be shared without their consent.

Teachers can create a safe space for storytelling by:

  • Establishing clear guidelines for respectful communication;
  • Encouraging active listening;
  • Modeling vulnerability; and
  • Providing opportunities for reflection.

Connecting Family Migration Stories to the Curriculum

Following the Re-Imagining Migration Learning arc, Moving Stories is an entry point to understanding migration. One way to take the next step is through the use of literature. Teachers can use books that feature immigrants, refugees, migrants, and others who have moved; or educators can explore migration themes to help students understand and appreciate the experiences of people on the move. By sharing these stories, students can develop empathy and understanding, which can lead to a greater sense of belonging for immigrant students.

Art teachers might connect the themes in students’ moving stories to Jacob Lawrence’s extraordinary series on the Great Migration. The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., has created an extraordinary website on the Migration series that includes primary sources and other resources that can be used across academic disciplines.

And, of course, migration is deeply intertwined with the history of the U.S. and the world. Most social studies frameworks include multiple standards relating to migration. The learning arc includes a powerful set of questions that educators can use to help students compare their own family migration experiences and those of their peers with other instances of migration past and present. In addition, science teachers might use Moving Stories to begin, or to conclude, a unit on ancient human migration as part of a lesson on what DNA reveals about the deep history of human migration.

Beyond the Classroom

The benefits of sharing migration stories go beyond the classroom. By celebrating everyday family stories of migration, we can change the narrative around migration from one that is dominated by myth and misinformation to one that is both more intimate and universal. Sharing stories builds bridges across time and identities. People whose families have migrated at different times, for different reasons, and have different backgrounds find common ground. Sharing these stories can be cathartic for speakers and listeners alike. It can lead to new insights into oneself and others as well as change minds about prejudices and stereotypes.

Migration stories are everywhere, and they all share three common elements: life before migration, the migration journey and the experience of adjustment to a new community. By exploring these elements, students can better understand the ways their experiences with migration shape their perspectives on the world.

Get Started Sharing

You can download Re-Imagining Migration’s guide to using the Moving Stories project here for free. Moving Stories is not just for classrooms. It has been used in a wide range of learning settings, from training with museum docents to oath ceremonies for new citizens. In each of these settings, the goal is to promote empathy and connection and to reduce prejudice.

So, what's your moving story? We all have migration stories, whether they are about moving across town or across an ocean. By sharing these stories, we can gain valuable knowledge, connection, empathy and understanding. We can celebrate our cultural traditions and shared experiences and strengthen family bonds.

Migration is at the core of the American story. Our overlapping experiences have shaped our country. By creating spaces that bring together these stories, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our peers, our communities, our nations and the world. Let's start sharing our moving stories today.

Adam Strom

About the Author

Adam Strom has spent his entire educational career working to create communities of belonging within and outside the classroom. He is the executive director of Re-Imagining Migration, an organization whose mission is to advance the education and well-being of immigrant-origin youth, decrease bias and hatred against young people of diverse origins, and help rising generations develop the critical understanding necessary to build and sustain welcoming and inclusive communities.

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Re-Imagining Migration
Re-Imagining Migration's mission is to advance the education and well-being of immigrant-origin youth, decrease bias and hatred against young people of diverse origins, and help rising generations develop the critical understanding and empathy necessary to build and sustain welcoming and inclusive... See More
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