MSU team challenges toxic stereotypes of American immigrants



Michigan State University School of Journalism

No group has been more central to this presidential election than immigrants. The rich, the poor; black, white, or brown; veterans or seniors—no group has been under the microscope more than immigrants. And this political microscope has the kind of mirrors you would find in a funhouse. Everything comes out distorted and wavy.

100 Questions and Answers About Immigrants to the U.S. was written to straighten out the distortions and replace rumor with research.

This book is the 11th in a series of cultural competence guides published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism. (Care to see all of our books in one place? Here’s an Amazon link.)

This new book was produced by students and faculty in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and intended to inform the national debate about immigration.

The process began with students interviewing first- and second-generation immigrants about what people often ask or assume about them. Answers were then drawn from published research and vetted by immigration experts.

Some dimensions are scarcely heard in national debates. One is that the Pew Research Center has found that more people are returning to Mexico than coming from Mexico to the United States. Another is that many people who are in the United States arrived legally and overstayed. People might not know that many non-citizen immigrants are serving in the U.S. military, and that the government encourages others to come because they have valuable skills or large investments to make in the U.S. economy.

The political debate has largely missed all this.

As lead editor on the guide, MSU Advertising and Public Relations Professor & Associate Dean for International Programs Dawn Thorndike Pysarchik worked with international advertising students to track down the questions and answers.

Their writing and the infographics are the heart of 100 Questions and Answers About Immigrants to the U.S. Stories are the soul. The intent was to be more than a stew of statistics and to put faces on the story. Two of those faces are prize-winning journalist and author Sonia Nazario and Bing Goei, businessman, and director of Michigan’s Office of New Americans.

The guide, published in print and digital copies, includes videos from the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center. When we saw how immigrants were telling their stories in short videos, we asked Immigrant Stories Project Director Elizabeth Venditto for permission to use some. The project is funded by the University of Minnesota, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Digital Public Library of America, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In one video, Wise Ali describes being born in Somalia and then surviving war, poverty, mass killings and more than 20 years in refugee camps before making it to the United States.

In another, Irma Márquez Trapero describes how faith helped her family come from Mexico to the United States on temporary visas and stay for work and a better life.

Nazario wrote the book Enrique’s Journey, a Honduran boy’s odyssey to be reunited with his mother in the United States. In her foreword for the 100 Questions guide she writes, “In my travels in the U.S. and in central America, I have met many of these children. I urge readers of this book to meet one of these children in your community. If you do, you will see someone with strengths and flaws, someone looking for safety, freedom and opportunity.

“Someone not so different from themselves.”

Goei, who immigrated from Indonesia by way of the Netherlands, writes, “Many of us are enjoying a quality of life that we would not have been able to provide for our children and grandchildren if we did not live in this great country called America. With these blessings, we now must accept the responsibility to share our stories and to be the voice for those who have no voice within our communities.”

Their words and the video stories of immigrants tell more than statistics can. “100 Questions and Answers About Immigrants to the U.S.” helps make such conversations easier. We hope it is just the beginning of your journey to hear stories from the people around you.

Bias Busters series editor Joe Grimm teaches in the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

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MAKE A DIFFERENCE! October 2016 is Bullying Prevention Month! Learn about helpful books (including The New Bullying by the MSU team) and useful web links to combat bullying in your community.

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