Many UU congregations are looking for help in engaging children and youth with immigration justice issues. In February, the UUA will publish a four-session curriculum for children. With this post, we publish an annotated list of websites and books about immigration compiled by religious educator Karen Scrivo as a course project at Starr King School for the Ministry. In this post, she introduces her project- Ed.
When my Italian grandparents came to the United States as children during the early 1900s, they and their parents arrived at Ellis Island without papers, passports or visas. My grandma Rose Siciliano was about 7 and my grandpa Louis Scrivo was 12. Their families made the long arduous trans-Atlantic journey to escape the harsh poverty that gripped southern Italy. They came knowing no English and with dreams of finding a better life in America.
Their stories are similar to those of many of today’s immigrants – except then there were no quotas for how many Europeans could enter the United States. So their undocumented status did not brand them as “illegal aliens,” nor did they constantly look over their shoulders, worrying they might be deported. Had they been coming from Mexico, they would have not have encountered high barbed wire fences or been detained or turned back by menacing border patrols.
My grandparents went to school, learned English and later met and married in Freeport, Pennsylvania. A carpenter, my grandfather built a house and also worked in the coal mines near Pittsburgh. My grandmother sometimes worked as a seamstress for a local department store. They raised three sons – my father Bill and his older brother Bob and younger brother, Vic and lived to see their many grandchildren.
Like many first generation immigrants of that time, my grandparents worked to assimilate into what was then the “melting pot” of the United States. They called themselves “Americans,” by which they meant U.S. citizens rather than inhabitants of the Americas, and insisted their sons speak English at home as they had when young. They never forgot how different their lives might have been had they stayed in Italy. Still, my father was always very proud of his Italian heritage.
I found myself thinking a lot about my grandparents this past semester during Dr. Hugo Cordova Quiero’s class — Promised Lands and Immigrants – at Starr King School for the Ministry. While the class focused on the migratory experiences of Latina/os in the United States and Japan, we also looked at the differences and similarities to other immigrant populations past and present.
The course transformed my thinking about immigration and placed it in the much broader context of history, sociology, anthropology as well as ethnic, cultural, gender, migration and religious studies. It also brought new meaning and context to my own family’s immigration stories. As a religious educator, I have struggled to figure out how to share what I have learned with children and youth.
The power of story can help children- even small children- and youth gain some understanding of the experiences of immigrants – both past and present. Children do notice differences among people and do understand the importance of treating people fairly. As a religious educator, I want to make sure we do all we can to provide children and youth of all ages with accurate information that is developmentally appropriate as a way of preventing negative attitudes and stereotypes about people whose cultures and experiences are from different from than their own.
To that end, I compiled an annotated list of immigration resources for directors of religious education, youth directors, teachers, parents, children and youth. The list draws on many sources, including the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance, Public Broadcasting System (PBS) documentaries, the Library of Congress, interfaith and advocacy groups as well as religious educators, teachers and librarians. My hope is this will be a resource that others will add to and update.
Just as my first impressions of immigrants were formed by the stories I heard as a child and my grandparents’ belief that the golden door should remain open for other immigrants, so too is it my hope that the impressions our children and youth hold of immigration and immigrants will be shaped by stories of courage, hope, perseverance, and compassion.
What immigration justice resources for children and youth have you discovered? Contact us with suggested additions – Ed.
Karen Lee Scrivo is a religious educator and part of the adjunct staff of the Joseph Priestley District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. She is a low-residency seminary student at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif.