In 1965, a single piece of legislation transformed the demographic future of the United States. When President Johnson signed the Immigration and Naturalization Act, he set in motion a monumental shift that is evident today in our cities and classrooms, where the unprecedented diversity of the population is a direct reflection of that fateful piece of legislation. When we launched Newest Americans in 2014, we set out to produce a storytelling project to document the untold narratives of migration and identity this legislation had produced in our home city of Newark, New Jersey. It became immediately apparent to us that these stories could not be fully understood without situating them in the context of the successive waves of migration through Ellis Island and from the American South that have shaped Newark and made it a global city. But this is not just the story of our city, it is also the story of countless communities across the country whose populations are being transformed by migration. More recently, we have begun exploring how these stories intersect with the communities and histories across the globe that inform the stories these recent arrivals bring with them.
Newest Americans was launched by three project partners — the Rutgers Center for Migration and the Global City, Talking Eyes Media, and VII Photo — who have cross-pollinated academic inquiry and award-winning media production to generate fresh narratives and insights about the shifting demographics that will define our future as a “minority-majority” nation. In response to educators who have been using our media in their classrooms, we have developed multimedia, project-based, civically engaged curriculum for high school and college students. Our curriculum addresses the absence of post-1965 immigrant narratives and histories in school classrooms nationwide and reflects the demographics of post-industrial cities like Newark, where immigrants who have arrived in the past 50 years co-exist with the descendants of multiple waves of migration from Europe and the American South.
Our curriculum trains students to research the intertwined histories of local communities and to use digital media to share their discoveries in a wide variety of artistic and documentary mediums. The modular framework is designed to be easily adapted for pre-existing classes in multiple academic and arts disciplines, and to provide flexibility of use ranging from single classes and assignments to in-depth research and digital media projects. The modules introduce students to a wide variety of research methods and expressive media while simultaneously equipping them with the tools to become socially inquisitive and self-reflective citizens, critically and compassionately engaged with their communities and capable of pursuing these engagements with skill and purpose.
Our curriculum was created in collaboration with the Newark Board of Education, Schools That Can, and the Newark Trust for Education, and was supported by the National Geographic Society and Express Newark. We conducted pilot programs with Newark high school teachers which enabled us to incorporate insights from skilled educators based on their own experience using the curriculum in their classrooms. By training the next generation of media makers, scholars, and citizens, we strive to engage younger and more diverse audiences in the stories that define our distinct histories and that will shape our common future.