The Face of Immigration

Cultural Misconceptions Myths . April 6, 2013.

Every American has heard news reports of “the border problem” and constant unwavering rhetoric that Mexican immigrants specifically are “criminals” and “rapists”. What we don’t see, however, is the stories of these people we judge. I have yet to see segments on CNN, Fox, or any other large networks that humanize these immigrants by airing their personal narrative. Instead, the powerful dictate what we see and hear and ultimately change our perception over time. We seem to be numb to Donald Trump’s erratic and radical statements about illegal immigrants, and allow this sentiment to become normalized and accepted. If we take the time to learn about these people and exactly what is occurring at our southern border, we can become more compassionate to their plight. Rather than seeing numbers on a screen, we see people seeking better opportunities and fleeing one form of oppression.

Digital Storytelling

The University of Minnesota’s Immigration Research Center created a project called “Immigrant Stories”, and is an excellent resource that takes technology to provide viewers with a visual narrative. This form of contemporary archaeology allows immigrants to tell their own story without a middleman and is documented for future generations to see. 

Although this project features immigrants from around the world I chose to highlight Miguel Diaz’s story. With over an hour of interview material, I was given plenty to work with to gain more insight into his experience. If you’d like to listen to it yourself, I’ve linked the audio below. However, I will discuss the significant moments of his story.

https://immigrants.mndigital.org/items/show/300

Miguel was born in 1987 in Uriangato, Guanajuato, Mexico, a town with under 200 inhabitants. He is the second youngest of 9 children and has only met a couple of them in his life. Miguel currently has a degree in business administration and is working on his master’s degree in business administration at North Dakota State University. He explains that the reason why his family moved to California in the first place was that his dad got through the 1987 immigration law that occurred in the United States, he was able to get a residence for himself and his family. And as a result, they were able to get legal residence. He was working there, illegally, in the prior years, and then in that year, he was able to get residence for everyone. The very first time they immigrated to California as legal residents, it was only his oldest siblings that came with their dad. Simply because my dad had a strategy. He couldn’t afford to bring everyone at the same time… And so what he did is he brought those who were able to work… To be able to help him save some money so that he would be able to bring the rest of his children to the United States. Eventually, each of his siblings was married and bought homes for their families. He continues on discussing the Mexican traditions his family maintains, such as Las Posadas, he explains them as “each family gets an opportunity to participate by hosting a posada, where each family is in charge of having, you know, a food ready for those who attend the posada, and being able to participate in the readings and in the lectures that are going on”. By maintaining their roots as well as embracing American ways, they were able to assimilate and contribute to American culture. 

By hearing stories such as Miguel’s, we are able to feel more compassion for those who enter our country. He is able to tell his own story without a third party choosing what parts of his story they want to portray. Digital storytelling is an invaluable tool for people, especially immigrants to tell their stories.

Voices of Ballard

“Voices of Ballard: Immigrant Stories from the Vanishing Generation” was published in 2001 and is a collection of interviews as part of the Nordic American Voices Oral History Initiative, “an ambitious effort to collect, preserve, and share the life histories of Nordic immigrants and their descendants in the Pacific Northwest,” according to the Nordic Heritage Museum. Of the 29 volunteers that collected the stories, they found that most people believed their stories were unremarkable and rather ordinary. Through this project, they found that they were in fact very captivating, about their lives throughout the 20th century. I found this bottom-up approach to be enlightening, it’s not about the political leaders, it’s the stories of individuals who survived through two world wars, a great depression and the transition to life in a new world and the constant effort to retain ethnic traditions.

Although this isn’t about Hispanic immigrants, I found it to be a very interesting project done right next to us. It shows the value of immigrant stories and social and historical knowledge. The Pacific Northwest is full of immigrants who have amazing stories to tell of their journey and lives. 

An Anthropology of Familismo

Journals such as this one are important. They provide another narrative for Mexican immigrants, that Hispanic and Latino populations have a strong identification and attachment of persons with their nuclear and extended families (Moore, 1970), also known as familismo (Smith-Morris).

Familismo is theorized as a core cultural value that requires the individual to submit to a more collective, family-based form of decision-making, and responsibility for, and obligation to ensuring the well-being of family members (both nuclear and extended).” – Carolyn Smith-Morris

Rather than the narrative that immigrants are “criminals”, this journal shows the portrayal we don’t often see. The information for this paper was gathered by asking informants directly about the relevance and meaning of family in their lives, rather than through observations.

Throughout my research on this project, this is the only study I found that focuses on Hispanic identity and what contributes to their close family ties. This lack of knowledge (and unwillingness to want to learn) regarding immigrants plays into the “criminal” stigma we often see portrayed in the media and by our own President. 

By using these case data to highlight the complexity of core values, and how they are influential in the lives of informants, we hope to promote greater sensitivity in studies of culture change in migrants and to promote complementary of contextual and qualitative data in social scientific research.”  – Carolyn Smith-Morris

Conclusion

Whether you view America as a mixed salad or melting pot we are, and always will be, a land of immigrants. There is no single way to define American culture and traditions and to me, that is truly what makes America great. Technology has made it possible for us to see and hear Immigrant stories and experiences first hand. It is our moral obligation to do our own research and form our own opinions, we cannot hide behind this false ideology of nationalism and blindly believe everything we are told. We are all humans, everyone deserves to be treated as such despite our race, gender, sexual orientation or legal status.

References

Cultural Misconceptions Myths . April 6, 2013. https://culturalmisconceptions.wordpress.com/.

“Immigrant Stories.” College of Liberal Arts | University of Minnesota. Immigration History Research Center, March 9, 2017. https://cla.umn.edu/ihrc/immigrant-stories 

Edwards, Haley Sweetland. “A Close Look at Migration and the People Risking Everything.” Time. Time, January 24, 2019. https://time.com/longform/migrants/ 

Moen, Lynn. Voices of Ballard: Immigrant Stories from the Vanishing Generation. Seattle, WA: Nordic Heritage Museum, 2001.

Moore, Joan W. “Colonialism: The Case of the Mexican Americans.” Social Problems 17, no. 4 (1970): 463–72. https://doi.org/10.1525/sp.1970.17.4.03a00050.

Smith-Morris, Carolyn, Daisy Morales-Campos, Edith Alejandra Castañeda Alvarez, and Matthew Turner. “An Anthropology of Familismo.” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 35, no. 1 (2012): 35–60. https://doi.org/10.1177/0739986312459508.

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