Creating a Critical Im/Migration Curriculum

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #11 in July 2010]

The state deports 1,100 people everyday in the United States, a rate higher than under the George W. Bush Administration; in 2008 alone, 100,000 US children saw one of their parents deported. Moreover, 5.1 million children in the United States are members of mixed-status families (one or more people in the family is undocumented) and face this reality. They comprise 7% of all children in the United States.

Anxiety over the possible deportation of loved ones directly and indirectly affects students in the Chicago Public School system. Many educators and community people are actively working to address these issues in and outside the classroom. The Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce (CGCT) is a collaboration of community members, students, teachers, artists, and professors working to develop a Chicago-based, culturally relevant curriculum entitled A Peoples’ Chicago: Our Stories of Change and Struggle. Broadly, CGCT aims to design stimulating and quality learning activities. Our extensive website will compile content archives, resources, and tools to engage students in Chicago-based studies contextualized temporally and spatially. We’ve just completed a unit exploring urban renewal and urban removal and are working on a unit on educational struggles. Next, we aim to launch the creation of a unit that specifically engages with immigration issues to address the lived realities of many of our students.

The United States is popularly thought of as a “nation of immigrants.” This common misconception paints a picture of the Statue of Liberty welcoming “huddled masses” of immigrants aspiring to a new life in the United States. It narrates the desires and experiences of immigrants fleeing their home countries in hopes of achieving the “American Dream,” succeeding through persistence, adopting appropriate “good immigrant” behaviors, and assimilating the dominant values (e.g. individualism, competition, monetary success, patriotism, etc.). This idea disavows the institutionalized legacy of racism in the United States, privileging an idealized account of European immigrant experiences and neglecting the violent histories experienced by Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos/as and Asians. It also fails to differentiate the experiences between and among the many US im/migrant groups.

The “nation of immigrants” idea is a powerful myth that has fostered a historically incorrect understanding of im/migration. CGCT seeks to debunk this myth by embracing a critical im/migration studies framework to guide our curriculum development. It is attentive to the role of the United States in producing the conditions that have fueled migration to the United States, it investigates how and why people migrate to the United States historically and currently, and it fosters an understanding of how legislation, institutions, and mass media work together to categorize different groups in order of “desirability” in the nation. All students, including Latina/o students, are at the whim of this stereotypical and “blame the immigrant” thinking that also eliminates the voices and day-to-day experiences of immigrants, especially the undocumented.

Our primary-through-high-school curriculum involves teaching and learning about the African roots of people on every continent. We include a more historicized account of im/migration, discuss migration patterns globally, and connect directly with Chicago-based migration stories. The curriculum aims for students and teachers to understand current realities and develop the tools we need to challenge this broken system. We need to have a common understanding of human migration patterns and how international economic policies destabilize human lives. To that end, we meet to brainstorm ideas and to create and gather resources, archives, art, music, curricular units, original writings, interviews, and more from students, teachers, artists, parents and organizers. We intend to build a curriculum that engages the multiple ways of teaching and learning im/migration histories. ◊

To learn more about CGCT, contact us at or 773.275.CGCT (2428). Or, drop by our office, 4554 N. Broadway, Suite 326.

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