Blue sepia image of dozens of immigrants carrying suitcases and boxes being funneled into a single line, most of the women wear headscarves typical of the early 20th century, the man in the front is wearing a tag. Words “Becoming American” are in white typeface in the center.  Under the image “A Documentary Film and Discussion Series on Our Immigration Experience.”

In the 2018-2019 academic year Gallaudet University hosted Becoming American: A Documentary Film Series on Our Immigration Experience.  For six weeks in the fall semester the Drs. John S. & Betty J. Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center, in collaboration with the National Deaf Life Museum and the Multicultural Student Development and Mentoring program, screened films and led lively discussions with over 500 students, faculty and staff.  

Gallaudet University is one of thirty-two sites nationwide selected to host this series which is a project of City Lore in collaboration with the Immigration and Ethnic History Society and the International Coalition of the Sites of Conscience.  The project was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the HumanitiesExploring the Human Endeavor.  

Selected films represented a selection of diverse immigration experiences drawn from both the past and the present and include: New York, The Jewish Americans, Welcome to Shelbyville, The New Americans, Destination America, My American Girls, and The Search for General Tso.

Providing context to each film’s story was historian William Ennis, III, Ph.D., who also moderated discussions.  Pablo Gonzales, Jr. served the project as a Peer Mentor and led evening screenings along with Jean Lindquist Bergey, associate director of the Schuchman Center and director of the series for Gallaudet.  

Films got people talking about immigration and thinking about ways that we, as a community, can be more attentive or involved.  Conversations took place about loss of identity, code switching and ways to navigate a dominant culture, all issues that affect the Deaf cultural-linguistic community.  A “Deaf lens” was part of each discussion. Observing the many signs for “immigration”, “immigrant”, and “refugee” that are used, students discussed the ways signs, like words, can reflect values.    

During discussions, some commented on how we need to include immigration when we talk about diversity.  One person reflected on how faculty members need to consider their own cultural competency and shared the example of when conversing with and being sensitive to students who fast.  

Ennis reflected on the series, "The ROI on this project was remarkable. The discussions on immigration tapped into ongoing and latent issues of race, identity, intersectionality, and ableism, among other things. As faculty, I was proud to be part of a discourse that sought understanding and respect by embracing the tension which is often intrinsic in this kind of discourse."

Khadijat Rashid, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Education, Business and Human Services, wrote, "Thank you so very much for putting on this series! It was a very powerful event for the campus community, particularly during this period when immigration and immigrants are so misunderstood - and unfortunately, demonized. For many, it was cathartic to have a place on campus where they could form community and have civilized discussions about the immigrant experience . . . I was struck by the impact I could see the program having on our students, faculty and staff. Thank you for bringing such imaginative, innovative, community-fostering programming to campus. I look forward to more of the same going forward."

African American student facing outwards and speaking on stage sharing his comments.Malik Mikhail shares thoughts on U.S. immigration.

Dean Rashid making comments on stage facing outward to audience.
Dean Rashid comments on the immigration experience.

Professor Ennis speaking to students in Schuchman Center.
William Ennis, Ph.D., served as scholar for the Becoming American series at Gallaudet. Here, he leads a group discussion.

Pablo Gonzalez speaks in front of audience inside of Chapel Hall where the Museum is.
Pablo Gonzales, Jr. serves as Peer Mentor for the Becoming American Film Series. Here, he leads a discussion in Chapel Hall.

Becoming American Screening 2018 Schedule:

September 24: New York and The Jewish Americans (clips from each)

October 1: Welcome to Shelbyville

October 8: The New Americans

October 15: Destination America, Episode 1 "The Golden Door"

October 22: My American Girls

October 29: The Search for General Tso

About "Becoming American" Immigration Film Series

Becoming American campaign poster. It has several images of several movies, have information and dates/times of screenings.

Four sponsors of Becoming American Series: City Lore, National Endowment for the Humanities, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, Immigration & Ethnic History Society.