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Histories of Migration

Chapter 4

Then and now


“For her there is no border I wouldn’t cross.” Alberto Ledesma, Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer: Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life


Many of our students are either immigrants themselves or come from immigrant families, whether their family came recently or many generations in the past. However, there is also a persistent assumption that people who are non-white are always immigrants, when many Mexican Americans, Indigenous people, and Black people have either resided in the land currently occupied by the U.S. since pre-colonization or were brought here forcibly as a result of chattel slavery.  It is important to discuss with students the complexity of othering and belonging and how citizenship or legal status has historically been used to perpetuate anti-Black and racist oppression. 


This is a great topic to inspire student advocacy by learning about the historical and current movements for immigrant justice. Young immigrants lead many initiatives to create safety and security for their communities. Across California and Texas, there are many immigration advocacy and activist organizations which can be tapped as resources, guest speakers, and experiential learning. At both the state and national levels, there are ongoing struggles for legislative or governmental relief.

Key Term / Definition

Learning Objectives

These pieces have been selected as a way for students to: 

  • Analyze images, texts, oral histories, and other portrayals of how immigrants have resisted marginalization throughout history and today

  • Describe actions or changes necessary to promote immigrant justice in their communities and beyond

  • Connect their own experiences, family histories, and/or community histories with the history of immigration in the U.S. 

  • Critically analyze policies and rhetoric relating to the topic of immigration

Essential and Guiding Questions

  • What are the motivating factors that encourage a person’s or family’s decision to migrate?

  • What are your past and present experiences with immigration? 

  • What are the challenges that immigrants face in this country? At school? At work? 

  • What would the world look like if people were not forced to migrate?

  • What is the relationship between slavery, imperialism, and migration?

  • What are some of the differences between immigration experiences, such as that of a wealthy immigrant vs. that of a refugee or asylum seeker?

  • What are the political advantages and disadvantages of patriotism and nationalism toward the U.S. and our heritage countries?

What are some of the circumstances that undocumented students face? (Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer,Even at Berkeley, I Face Threats as an Undocumented Student

Suggested Activities

  • Read Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer by Alberto Ledesma as a class. Facilitate this reflective, fun  creative writing activity to engage with the text and share with the class as a method of collective reflection. [MS, HS,CC]


  • Use this handout featuring a political cartoon and article titles to facilitate a class conversation on the rhetoric of immigration. When facilitating class discussion, be sure to ground the space by reminding students that though this is a theoretical conversation, the language we use to describe people has real effects. Therefore, students should be prepared to be compassionate, thoughtful, and critical in their responses, especially since some of their friends, peers, and community members may be immigrants themselves. [MS, HS, CC]



  • Use this teacher resource guide to teach lessons on the history of Chinese immigration in the 19th century, including landmark court cases, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other anti-Chinese legislation, and the development of transcontinental railroads. After teaching these two lessons, ask students to make connections between the legal treatment of Chinese immigrations in the U.S. in the 19th century to the way immigrants of all backgrounds are treated in the U.S. today. [MS, HS, CC]


  • Collage: Ask students to bring in newspapers and magazines for an in-class collage session. Before beginning the collage process, divide students into groups and ask them to reflect on the questions: What is citizenship? What does it mean to belong to a country? What is a country?

    • Consider assigning Safia Elhillo’s novel-in-verse, Home is Not a Country, prior to this activity to help students begin to question the existence of nation-states and violent concepts like citizenship and borders. 

    • After group discussion, have students create futuristic collages responding to the question: What do you pledge allegiance to? [MS, HS, CC] 

  • Digital Stories: If many of your students are immigrants or from migrant families/communities, encourage them to conduct compassionate interviews to document their family or community stories. Take things a step further by having them create digital stories using their phone cameras or other video-making software. This is a great activity for high school students and English language learners. Curriculum with step-by-step instructions for this project is provided here. [HS, CC]

Text Selections



Reference materials for the educator, background, databases
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