Learning Adventures in Citizenship
Episode 4Topic 4
Focus On Immigrants In America And America In The Immigrant
American Immigrants


1For the millions of immigrants pouring into this country at the turn of the century, New York City was supposed to be the great "melting pot." Speaking dozens of languages and eating and dressing differently, the immigrants were expected to become just like other Americans, and fast. Except it wasn't that simple. While immigrant children quickly adapted, their parents did not. This created many problems for immigrant families. At the same time, the immigrants were changing America: the music we listen to, the food we eat, the words in our language.

And, of course, the immigration story did not end 100 years ago. Millions of immigrants are once again pouring into America. The two-sided story of immigrants continues: how America changes them and how they change America.

In this activity, you will have the chance to explore this two-sided story. You can explore one side or the other, or both. To study how America changes immigrants, you will be interviewing an immigrant family; to study how immigrants change America, you will be conducting a census--or survey--of your community. Maybe, you would like to find a partner and do both. It's up to you. If you decide to explore the first question--how America changes the immigrant--go to Step 2A. To study how immigrants shape America, go to Step 2B.

Research How America Shapes The Immigrant
The first thing to do is find an immigrant family that you want to interview and that wants to be interviewed. It is better to interview a family than an individual. Not only will you get more viewpoints, but you will see the different effects America has on different generations.

You can start by looking around your classroom and school. You probably have immigrant friends or classmates. If not, try your community. Do have any immigrant neighbors? Are there immigrant businesspersons in your community? Talk to them. Tell them what you doing and why you want to talk with them and their families.

Once you have found a subject, it's time to do the interviews. You can take notes or record your interviews on tape. (Remember, when taping it's useful to take notes too, that way, you have a rough guide to what's on the tape.) Maybe, you want to take pictures of the subjects in their American home doing American things and doing things from their native country.

Before getting into the bigger questions, get the basic information about each member of the family: name, age, sex, native country, native language, occupation (if working), and how long they have been in America.

Now, it's time to get into questions about how America has changed them. What are some of the first American things they did? What are some of the old ways of life they gave up? When interviewing the children, ask them if there are American things they do that upset their parents. When interviewing the parents, ask them what American things their children do that upset them.

Once you have collected your interviews--and taken pictures--it's time to present your material. For some ideas on that, go to Step 3A.

Research How Immigrants Shape America
To discover how immigrants are changing America, you should conduct a survey of your community. This can be done in two ways. You can walk around the business districts and shopping centers of your community. How many small shops and restaurants are run by immigrants? How many businesses are geared for immigrant customers? A store that sells food ingredients from India is no doubt geared for Indian immigrants, for example. Keep a list of all the different immigrant businesses. Or, perhaps you want to draw a map. This will show you how immigrant neighborhoods develop. You can also do this without leaving your house, though it's probably not as much fun. How? The Yellow Pages, especially the neighborhood Yellow Pages. Go through it. You can make a survey by noting the listings for your community. Once you have collected your data on America and your community, it's time to present it. For some tips on how, go to Step 3B.
Present How America Shapes The Immigrants
There are several ways to present your findings. You can keep it simple and put it in a report. You could have a separate page (or section) for each member of the family--maybe starting with a picture of that person and the basic information about them. Then, report what you learned in the interview. You can do this in their words. Transcribe the tapes you make. (Remember to edit it. No one likes to read all the "ers" and "uhs" that fill up the way we all talk.) Or put it in your words by condensing and explaining what they said.

Or you can do a display. Put up pictures, have a tape that people can listen to. If the family is willing to lend or give you some old things they no longer use, put them in the display.

Present How Immigrants Shape America
You can present this in a written report. Be sure to include your data in tables and charts. Or you can make a visual display. Make the charts as colorful and interesting as possible. This will grab people's attention. Maybe you might want to use symbols. For example, to show how many immigrant restaurants are located in different neighborhoods you could draw a picture of--or even use--a large plate and a small plate, with the numbers printed inside.

Whether you explore how America shapes immigrants or how America is shaped by immigrants, don't forget to share your report or presentation with friends and teachers at school.