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 Humanities: Exploring 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."
Malik Mikhail shares thoughts on U.S. immigration.
Dean Rashid comments on the immigration experience.
William Ennis, Ph.D., served as scholar for the Becoming American series at Gallaudet. Here, he leads a group discussion.
Pablo Gonzales, Jr. serves as Peer Mentor for the Becoming American Film Series. Here, he leads a discussion in Chapel Hall.
September 24: New York and The Jewish Americans (clips from each)