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I learn America

A documentary film by Jean-Michel Dissard & Gitte Peng

Community Conversations

Denver Colorado

Our first workshop took place at South High School where we engaged a group of “newcomers” and “American born” students to connect with each other.

The students then worked for 2 months and dreamed up a school-wide community conversation of their own.

During their community conversation, the students shared their immigration stories to an auditorium full of schoolmates, parents, elected representatives and educators.
They called on their community to take action and to fully welcome the young immigrants at South High.

“My story is simple. A month ago, I was in China and I had many many friends. Today, I’m in Denver and I have no friends. Tomorrow, you will be all my friends.”
-Student at South High in Denver.

US DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

To highlight the work done through I Learn America, the U.S. Department of Education hosted a special screening in DC – Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the event and made it clear: “the students represented in the film need to be seen and supported as national assets in our schools.”

Students from around the country who’ve worked with us shared their stories and recommendations to the policy makers at the US Dept of Education.

Thumbs up to Cardozo High School in DC, Northwestern High School, Parkdale High School, Coolidge High School, T.C. Williams High School, Bladensburg High School, High Point High School in Maryland, International high school at Lafayette, Ossining High in New York, North Eugene High School in Oregon.

(in Partnership with Teaching Tolerance, CASA de Maryland, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), United We Dream, Internationals Network for Public Schools UCLA, Center X)

Then, we took the ED seal… We’ll return it once the US Dept of Education pledges to get governors and every school districts in the US to be welcoming 😉

“The hallmarks of great schools for our students, especially those who are new to our country: to recognize and use the assets students bring, to be both teachers of language and content subjects, and to address students’ social emotional needs as well as academic…”
–Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education

PORTLAND MAINE

“You struggle — You struggle some more … then there’s happiness — After the rain, comes the sun.”
—Workshop participant from Somalia

Maine is known as the whitest state in America. But Portland is the exception – It has become one of the main refugee resettlement hub in the country.

In Portland’s schools, one third of the students are immigrants (mainly refugees) from Somalia, West Africa, the middle East, South East Asia.

MARYLAND

“I’m a French dude like Jean Michel here – I’m from Toulouse the same city he’s from. When I was seven, I left to live with my Grandma in Africa. I did not like it down there. So I moved to America with my mom. She had married to another white guy and they had kids. It was hard for me to hear those kids call her mom when I never called her mom. I’m still trying to connect with them and it’s very, very hard.”

—Student at High Point High School, Maryland

“I’m from Guatemala. I was a baby when my mom came here for 10 years. I never got to know her. I lived with my grandma… Then one day, my parents told me to come to live with them in the United States. I was used of living with my Grandma. She was like my mom. I did not want to go. I told them to go ahead and make their lives. Then my grandma said: “Go ahead. They are your parents. I’m just your grandma. You have to start to know them.” – So that day I came.”

—Student at High Point High, Maryland

BAYONNE NEW JERSEY

“I’m from villages where everyone knows your great-great-great-grandfather. From cornfields my grand father showed me s he beamed with pride. I’m from nights spent on the roff looking at the stars. From waking up to our alarm clock of a rooster. I’m from the culture of Alexandria. I’m from phone calls to the village promising to visit in the summer. I’m from taxi rides to school with midst of the Mediterranean kissing my face.”

—Workshop participant from Egypt.

“When I got to America, I was cursed at. Every single day they would spit on my shoes saying I was ugly. I was very sad. Everyone was mean and I did not understand why. I’m the nicest girl ever. And when I got to high school that’s when I decided to be strong and not care about what anybody might think. If I love myself, you can’t tell me that I m ugly. I’m not!”

–Student at High Point High, Maryland

NEW YORK STATE

New York is the first state to make the film and the discussion available to all of its schools.

The New York City Department of Education launched its I LEARN AMERICA initiative at the Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies (MACS) in the Bronx.

Feeding on their connections to Brandon, Sandra, Sing, Itrat and Jennie, the students at MACS wrote about their own migration experiences then shared their lives with their school mates during a special community gathering.

(And the Teachers College at Columbia University compiled their stories into a book.)

In association with UCLA Center X and Jacob Burns Film Center, we’ve been working in Ossining, NY.

Many students at Ossining H.S know first hand that reuniting with parents you have not seen in years can be as puzzling as crossing a border. It’s easy to get lost in the process. They know to never stop and to keep moving. Don’t look back!

 

In association with Syracuse University, we piloted a workshop at Grant Middle School where many students are refugees from Myanmar. Sing became their big brother for a day! (Syracuse is home to a large Burmese refugee community)

“The stories in the film (if well used) can help educators take action and create the conditions that bring the main components to culturally responsive pedagogy to life. The film has tremendous value to the 450,000 educators we work with across the USA.”
–Sara L. Wicht – Teaching Tolerance, a project of The Southern Poverty Law Center

UCLA

At the UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Dean Marcelo Suarez-Orozco asked all the right questions:

DEAN SUAREZ OROZCO:
What makes a welcoming school?

SANDRA:
Teachers who listen, care and learn from their students

DEAN SUAREZ OROZCO:
Why is it so hard for our nation to be welcoming?

SANDRA:
Do we know how to listen, learn or relate?

“I Learn America is a great teaching tool… Empathy and insight happens with this film and the discussions that follow.”
— Westy Egmont Immigrant Integration Lab, Boston College School of Social Work

LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA

The Monseñor Oscar Romero Charter Middle School organized an after school screening and conversation with its students and their parents.

The story of Brandon echoed the struggles of many families who participated. The school is located in the Pico Union-Westlake community, an area fraught with poverty and academically struggling students. The majority of students attending schools in this area come from Central American immigrant families.

Students at the Windward School – a dynamic private college-prep school – related as well to the stories in I LEARN AMERICA.

Today’s immigrant experience is as relevant as their families’ past immigration struggles. Whether we came here 2 days ago or two generations ago, we are all foreigners to this land.

CLEVELAND OHIO

For the 7th and 8th graders at Urban Community School, I Learn America really means:

“Learning how to speak English and learning new people not like you. People you are not used to and who are from different background.”

“I Learn America means a new beginning and being who I want to be and knowing I’ll be accepted for who I am. This is me! And I’m Irish, Croatian, German and Cherokee Indian. “

In Cleveland, Lakewood High School, Magnificat High School, Saint Joseph High are human quilts made out of stories from Irak, Mexico, Burma, Thailand, Nepal, Albania… Their great grand parents came from Ireland, Bosnia, Poland, Jamaica and beyond. This is America today!

CHICAGO ILLINOIS

The students at Alcott College Prep asked the right questions to Sandra and Jennie:

“What was the hardest thing you had to deal with once you got to America?”

“Is it still difficult for you to live in America?”

“What advice would you give to other adolescents coming to America?”

Then the students shared their own stories.

With the 8th Graders at Namaste Charter School, we explored what “home” is all about.

“When migrating, when do we feel we’ve reached home?”

“Is home reachable or just something we have to keep on building all life long?”

At Namaste, we heard about moms who crossed the desert while pregnant – Great grand parents who left everything in Europe to build a new home in America…

Today, immigration is the norm not the exception. This is true in the US but also in Europe. We brought the project to France.

CRETEIL FRANCE

At Lycée Jacques Brel in La Courneuve, the film inspired the students to organized a “Morning Café session”.

In English, a Syrian student shared a personal poem about a young boy who left his home because of war – A student from Laos talked about his family escaping the Khmer Rouges in Cambodia – A young French girl told us how difficult it is to feel safe in a new city – We heard about China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Morocco…

MARSEILLE FRANCE

“This is like a dream. The stories in the film are like my story – And just yesterday I started to write my story too.”

— Amina, a young student from Collège Rosa Parks/Marseille

In Frais Vallon, Marseille/Quartier Nord, we screened the film at the Collège Jacques Prevert to French students and their educators.

“Pour nos eleves, les histoires du film sont une fenetre ouverte sur d’autres facons d’envisager le monde. D’ailleurs lors des echanges ils sont extremement curieux et posent beaucoup de questions et sont en attente de reponses.”

— A teacher at College Jacques Prevert.

PARIS FRANCE

Through an animation retracing their own journeys across the globe, newcomers at Lycée Jacques Decour told their classmates what it is like to arrive in France when you are young and born in Mongolia, Serbia, Peru, Turkey, Brazil…

The stories in our film are their stories too.

Migrating is not only about “receiving” communities. There’s at least two sides to that story.

GUATEMALA

I LEARN AMERICA went to Guatemala to harness the migrant experience from the point of view of “sending” communities.

In Totonicapán, youth told us their thoughts on migration and growing up in Guatemala.

“For the Guatemalan people, the United State is a slap in the face, because it makes us see the reality in Guatemala. We are a country with so much resources and opportunities but the social structure and economy of our country don´t allow us to develop with equal opportunities. For those reasons, the people have to abandon their families, have to leave behind their houses, their customs and traditions … They have to change completely to adapt to another society where they might not be accepted. They have to leave their identity & adopt a new culture if they want to be accepted. We keep saying: “we need change”

–Workshop participant in Totonicapan.

Local youth from Pop No’j shared their lives and opinions about migration and how it is affecting their communities.

“Everyone who thinks about the US thinks about improving their economic situation and their family’s situation. Parents frequently migrate there to give a better future to their children. It is the case in my family. My father went there to give us a better future… But the US also means separation. We don’t live with the people who left anymore. We cannot feel their love. We cannot show our love… And they can’t feel it.”

— Workshop Participant in San Pedro Necta, Guatemala

The United States means strength, because we, as families, need strength to endure the emptiness left by the absence of our people, our loved ones, who are left by the side of the road and don´t achieve the “American Dream”.  Today unfortunately, that dream has become the priority of our people. And many times, many persons die when they decide to go there. Some people never arrive there. Children go looking to improve their families but they don’t achieve it.  It makes absolutely no sense because Guatemala should be a country that also works for the development of its own people. we should be able to get benefits from our land.


– Workshop participant in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

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