Monday, March 28, 2016

Rethinking Home: A Powerful Look at Return Migration via Film

Contributed by Tatyana Kleyn, The City College of New York and Director & Producer of Una Vida, Dos Países (One Life, Two Countries)

Una Vida, Dos Países: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico is a 30 minute documentary film with free educator resources that explore the experiences of US born or raised students who have spent all or most of their lives in the US and returned with their family to Oaxaca, Mexico. The film is a rich teaching tool for conversations in schools about immigration and identity. Read a recent New York Times article featuring the film.

We drove for four days through California, New Mexico and Arizona to get to the El Paso, Texas border [with Mexico].  There I spent my last moments in the US. I turned around and said, “I will be back, I don’t know when, but it’s a promise.” I took my last breath on that side of the border and turned around, leaving not just friends and family, but a life I will never forget. - Melchor, 17 years old

People from all over the world dream about migration to the United States for “a better life.”  Some receive permission from the US government to immigrate, in the form of a green card or visa.  Others cross into the country without papers when it is nearly impossible for them to attain the required permission.  Currently, there are more than 11 million people in the US who are unauthorized, who are the topic of contentious immigration debates in our country.  Melchor (quoted above) and his family were a part this subcategory of migrants during their 10 years in the US. 

While we hear a lot about immigrants coming to the US, less is known about what happens when they leave.  The discourse is often around deportations and the rising numbers of individuals the government forces to return to their country of origin.  However, other families who are in the US without papers find that circumstances related to living undocumented also force them to return.  This phenomenon reminds us that migration is not a linear process, but a cyclical one.

Aside from deportations, there are a range of reasons families make the difficult decision to return.  These include: reuniting with elderly family members they have not seen in years (or those their children have not even met); medical issues that require long-term healthcare that undocumented immigrants cannot access in most states in the US; discrimination via state policies that prohibit undocumented immigrants from accessing drivers licenses, being banned from attending college or receiving financial aid; racism and xenophobia that many immigrants of color face on a regular basis; and the economic struggles of supporting a family while living in the shadows and being exploited of by the labor system. 

In order to share the stories of these returned families, and to focus on their US born and raised children, I was part of a team - with Ben Donnellon, William Perez and Rafael Vásquez - that created a short documentary to delve into these phenomena.   Una Vida, Dos Países: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico explores how elementary and secondary students struggle with their identity, language learning and loss, and schooling.  The film shows some of the benefits of being “back”-such as meeting grandparents and enjoying delicious fresh Mexican food, but it also shares the challenges that returning youth face - fitting in, using Spanish for academic purposes, communicating with family who speak indigenous languages, and the economic struggles that make education an obstacle for them.  
View the film trailer.

A group of transborder high school students, who call themselves “The New Dreamers,” meet to discuss the realities and challenges of being back in Mexico. Photo Credit: Ben Donnellon   

The goals of the film are to raise awareness about this growing population of students, some of whom are dual US and Mexican citizens.  The film is also accompanied by a Spanish-English bilingual curriculum for secondary schools in the US, Mexico and beyond.  The lessons prepare the students to watch the film and to delve deeper into the areas of identity, language, economics and policies.

A resource guide for educators in Mexico, whose students cross literal and figurative borders throughout their lives, also accompanies the documentary. These include the most obvious border, the artificial division between the US and Mexico, in addition to borders that are crossed from one state to another while living in the US.  Another border students cross daily is languages, such as English, Spanish and in the case of some of the families in the film, Zapotec (an indigenous language spoken in certain parts of Mexico).  These students also cross cultural borders as well as those across school systems.  For all these reasons I use Lynn Stephen’s (2007) term transborder to describe them.

Because these students are now (back) in Mexico does not mean that is where they will stay.  Those who are dual citizens of the US and Mexico, (if they were born in the US to at least one Mexican citizen parent), can freely travel between the two nations as long as their documentation is up to date.  Many who were undocumented in the US, still see that country as their home, and many hope to return.  However, applying and receiving papers or crossing countries’ border without authorization again are both tremendously costly and difficult for Mexicans.  But regardless of where they will be in the future - the US, Mexico or another nation - they bring with them a wealth of resources including their multilingualism, cross-cultural capabilities and in-depth understanding of how national and transnational policies – or the absence of them – impacts people at the most human level. 

The film and accompanying resources can be accessed via: The film and resources were funded by the US-Mexico Foundation.

For additional updates on the film, screenings and the transborder students, join “Una Vida Dos Paises The Film” on Facebook and on Twitter.

Stay Connected
We’re presenting at Share My Lesson’s Ideas & Innovations Virtual Conference on April 5th, 2016 at 8:30pm EST. Register for our free interactive session “So You Want to Teach about Immigration?” at this link: and please share broadly.
Email us at and follow us on Twitter @ThnkImmigration.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Interpreting César Chávez’s Legacy with Students

“When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the field is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.”

Huelga 'Strike' César Chávez Photo by Jay Galvin
César Chávez was a Mexican-American labor activist and civil rights leader who fought tirelessly throughout his life to improve the working conditions of migrant farm workers. A man of great courage, he championed nonviolent protest, using boycotts, strikes, and fasting as a way to create sweeping social change. Importantly, his work led him to found the United Farm Workers union (UFW).

His remarkable achievements towards social justice and human rights serve as an excellent example to young people of how vital their voices are in bringing about change and championing causes that are as relevant today as they were in his day.

Thursday, March 31st is César Chávez Day, a day aimed at celebrating the life and work of this remarkable individual through education and community service.

Inspired to enrich your classroom with the legacy of César Chávez? 

Start with a lesson

In this immigration lesson plan, students will understand how César Chávez’s adolescence as a migrant farm worker influenced his later achievements.  First, students will analyze how an artist and biographer have interpreted Chávez’s legacy.  Then by reading excerpts from Chávez’s autobiography, students will draw connections between how his early years shaped his later beliefs and achievements around organized labor, social justice, and humane treatment of individuals. Once students have read and critically thought about these connections, they will write a response supported with evidence from the text to answer the investigative question on the impact of Chávez’s early years and development.  This Common-Core and C3 aligned lesson includes extensions and adaptations for ELL students and readers at multiple levels. 

Click here to view the lesson.

Use visuals and picture books

Appropriate for younger students, but inspirational for all ages, picture books have a unique capacity to captivate and educate. The following books all have linked teacher’s guides.

  • Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para Soñar Juntos by Francisco Alarcón pays tribute to those who toil in the fields, and to César Chávez. This is an excellent bilingual book to use in your celebration of National Poetry Month in April.   
  • Amelia's Road by Linda Jacobs Altman explores the daily life of migrant farm working in California's Central Valley from a child’s perspective. According to the publisher, Lee and Low Books, “it is an inspirational tale about the importance of home.” 
  • First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez follows Chico and his family traveling farm to farm across California where every September they pick grapes and Chico enters a different school. But third grade year is different and Chico begins to find his own voice against the bullies at his school.
  • Calling the Doves / El Canto de las Palomas by Juan Herrera is the current Poet Laureate’s account of his childhood as a migrant farmworker.  Beautifully illustrated and composed in Spanish and English, Herrera describes the simple joys he misses from his native Mexico as well as detailing his personal journey in becoming a writer.
  • A brief video Mini-Bio: César Chávez sets the foundation for older students to learn about the major achievements of Chávez’s life.

Initiate a community service project

Chávez was explicit about the need to serve one’s community. As a class, identify a need in your community and then brainstorm ways that students can make a difference from running a donation drive to decorating school walls in order to welcome all students and families.  Take inspiration from a group of middle school students in Fellsmere, FL for a more intensive service-learning project. They wrote and produced a short news broadcast highlighting the unfair labor practices and strenuous conditions of migrant farmworkers who pick oranges in their community. Then they held a school-wide donation drive for materials farmworkers sorely needed. Their teachers were winners of our Community Grants program and a lesson for this project can be found here.  If you do decide to do an immigration-themed service-learning project, please let us know about it and apply for our community grants (deadline July 1, 2016). 

Extend learning into the present state of migrant farm workers

Have more ideas on teaching César Chávez and his legacy with students?  We’d love to hear them.  Email us at and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration.

Mark your calendars! We’re presenting at Share My Lesson’s Ideas & Innovations Virtual Conference on April 5th, 2016 at 8:30pm EST. Register for our free interactive session “So You Want to Teach about Immigration?” at this link: and please share broadly.