Monday, May 9, 2016

In Her Words, a Refugee Story Told in Verse

Brave and bold, The Good Braider by Terry Farish is told through the voice of Viola, a young immigrant teen who escapes with her mother from war-torn South Sudan to a refugee camp in Cairo and then to a new home in Portland, Maine. Viola is haunted by the life she left behind – the people she has loved, the violence she has endured, and the natural beauty she remembers – as much as she is fearful and uncertain in her new life as an American living in Portland. The story is written in free verse, and the vibrant story-telling entices any young reader or adult.

Both Viola and her mother, Tereza, struggle. They are learning the ropes in their new lives, working in a chicken packing factory, building a community of Sudanese within Portland, keeping up with the news and family left behind in South Sudan.  Other more mundane tasks pose challenges as well, including learning how to drive in the U.S., to check out books from the public library, and to speak English. Acculturation comes easier— though it is by no means easy— for Viola who also attends high school, slowly making friends with a teacher, a social worker, and other students. As Viola poignantly observes, “no one from America is from America.” When romance sparks between Viola and a red-haired classmate named Andrew, a cultural collide erupts, straining reaches a literal boiling point Viola’s relationship with her mother. 

Well researched, this novel is an excellent accompaniment to learning about the conflict in South Sudan, the world’s newest country, which is one of the poorest in sub-Saharan Africa and also one of the most oil-rich. The civil war left tens of thousands of South Sudanese dead, and over 2 million were forced to flee their homes. The Good Braider does not shy away from some violent scenes, so we recommend using discretion and reading at the middle school level and above. 

The novel is also a way for educators to explore the long process of becoming a refugee to the U.S. Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the proposed ceiling is 85,000In FY 2015, a third of refugee arrivals to the U.S. came from Africa.

Additional Resources
  •  A Land of Refuge or Refusal? Perspectives on the Refugee Experience in the United States – In this American Immigration Council lesson plan, students analyze key ideas in an academic article that provides background on the refugee experience in the United States. After analyzing author’s claims and evidence, students apply one of those claims to the current refugee crisis in order to answer the question: how is America a land of refuge, refusal, or both?
Want to get more involved with our educational work by applying for our community grants, writing immigrant-themed book reviews, contributing to our blog posts or offering lessons learned in the classroom? Let us know about it! Email us at and follow us on Twitter @ThnkImmigration #teachimmigration

Monday, May 2, 2016

We Thank You

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and May 3rd is Teacher Appreciation Day.  We, at the American Immigration Council, thank you for the work you do each and every day. 
We thank you for the times you stayed late grading papers, which you could have done at home, but you didn’t  because one of your students told you he needed a quiet place to study.  We thank you for getting there early (really early) just to make sure the room was set up perfectly for the lesson. We thank you for getting excited about creating that interactive, meaningful lesson -- “my kids are going to love this!” We thank you for waiting at the classroom door and greeting students no matter how tired you might be. We thank you for keeping that extra box of granola bars in your desk for the child who didn’t eat breakfast. We thank you for calling home to a parent whose child you were concerned about during your brief lunch break while helping a group of students work on an assignment in your room as you were checking in with a colleague on their day. Most especially, we thank you for your commitment to talking with your students about the values of social justice, fairness, and diversity through the lens of immigration. We thank you for investigating materials and lessons that not only improve your students’ reading and writing, but that truly teaches them these values. We thank you for being present for students and their families every day.

In honor of you and all whom you inspire, please read this note President Obama penned on the impact of his fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Hefty*.  Know that your influence is extraordinary and appreciated.

For those of us who aren’t teachers, perhaps this is an opportunity to take the time to personally thank a teacher this week or chose one of these 65 ways to recognize the hard work of teachers all year long. Additionally, you can also acknowledge the contribution a teacher has made by tweeting about an impactful teacher with the hashtag #ThankATeacher.

Thank you again for the work you do every day! Please stay connected with us via our classroom blog and our website with lessons, resources, contests, and grants to #teachimmigration. If you are teaching about immigration, let us know about it by sending us an email or a tweet. We’d love to highlight your work! Follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration.

*Fifth grade teachers, please keep in mind our annual, nationwide “Celebrate America” Creative Writing Contest for next year’s class. Find out about how to enter here. We’d love to have you join us and to read your students’ writing!