Interview with Re-Imagining Migration‘s Director, Adam Strom.
Organization Mission: To ensure that all young people grow up understanding migration as a fundamental characteristic of the human condition, in order to develop the knowledge, empathy and mindsets that sustain inclusive and welcoming communities.
Population Served: Educators in and out of formal school settings.
Founding Year: 2017
Organization Website: www.reimaginingmigration.org
Please provide a brief overview of the organization’s work.
We live in an era of mass migration. Young people – whether they are part of an arriving or receiving culture – strive to form their identities as learners, community members and change-makers in the context of this global phenomenon. We are catalyzing a community of educational leaders and social organizations around making migration a part of their curriculum and culture (in both formal and informal learning settings) so that all students can feel supported in their social, emotional, academic, and civic growth.
In a few sentences, please describe the problem you are working to solve and your approach to solving this problem.
In the U.S., 26% of children under the age of 18 and 33% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 32, have an immigrant parent. These children come into school eager to learn and finding ways to facilitate their successful inclusion into our societies is both a demographic and a democratic imperative. Despite the rapid growth in the number of children and youth from immigrant families and the difficult circumstances they face, most adults that serve them are ill-prepared to address their needs. At the same time, xenophobia, myths, and prejudices about migrants and migration have a profoundly negative effect on civil conversation and hinder the ability immigrant origin children and youth to thrive and meet their full potential. Moreover, inside and outside of classrooms, misunderstandings about newcomers are often used to sew division, undermining social and economic prospects for us all.
Given the rapid growth in the number of children and youth from immigrant families and the difficult circumstances they face, neither ignoring the situation nor addressing it with ad hoc solutions is an option. We offer educators a new perspective on migration, recognizing it as one of our most basic human experiences and we are developing a promising practices network of networks to bring this work to schools, informal educational settings, and social change organizations. In the end, we believe the best way to ensure our shared prosperity is an approach to education that fosters the academic, social, and emotional needs of immigrant-origin and their peers.
How and why did you first start working for this organization?
The how and the why is a great question. I am sure that each of my co-founders, Carola Suarez-Orozco and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco would answer that question in a slightly different manner. Below is my answer.
I believe that migration is our shared story as humans. It is my families story, my great grandparents were immigrants on both sides of my parents family. My wife’s mother is an immigrant from Ecuador. As an educator, I’ve inspired by the immigrant-origin students I’ve had the honor of working with.
At the same time, backlash and skepticism against newcomers is predictable. This is a real problem for a number of reasons. On a human level, young people are shaped by the environments in which they live. My partners have studied the impact of prejudice on immigrant youth, they take it in with the air they breathe and it impacts how they see themselves and how they believe they are perceived by others. That, of course, impacts their academic, social, and economic prospects. I’ve also seen how anti-immigrant attitudes impact non-immigrants, some of them act out an the prejudice in the air, others witness their friends being targeted. A new study out of UCLA confirms that the polarized political environment is hindering the social and emotional lives and academic performance of youth across the spectrum. Political scientists will tell you how bad this is for democracy, and economists have demonstrated the positive impacts of immigration again and again.
Migration is our past, present, and future and we need to do a better job as a society understanding this. At the same time, it is clear that to do that, we need to do a better job preparing the adults who work with immigrant-origin youth and their peers, to serve the increasingly diverse communities that they serve.
When Carola and Marcelo approached me to help them take the amazing research they have catalyzed and help bring it to educators in the US and around the world, I had to join them. I’ve been inspired by their work for years. It is clear that in this current moment, right now, we need to reach as many adults who serve youth as possible with professional learning and evidence based practices that they can bring to their work.
What current trends are you seeing in your field of work?
For too often, there has been a disconnect between people who work on issues of immigration and those that work with young people. We need to bridge that gap. Immigrant-origin youth are in schools, in after school programs, attending religious institutions, visiting museums, enrolled in music, dance, and sports programs. We cannot afford to treat them as other. They are us.
I believe people are beginning to understand that. At the same time, most of the educational focus on immigration has been on language issues. We need to think about the whole child and the entire educational ecosystem. To do that, we are trying to break down the boundaries between formal and informal education, between historians and social scientists, between anthropologists and psychologists. What I have seen, is that once people understand what we are up to, they are quite excited by the work.
At the same time, we live in a challenging funding cycle. The link between immigration and education is a difficult approach than many philanthropists are used to. In the current climate many people are focusing on acute solutions to immigration, we believe that is important but we must invest in the future and to scale that work, we need to educate the educators as fast as we can.
What do you think will change most about your work over the next 5 years?
I am very eager to see the work that we are seeding in our network grow. This summer, we are gathering an amazing group of organizations and educators, with the goal of developing a wide range of pilot projects. Think of each of them as evidence action labs that we can study, refine and mine for best practices that can be broadly applied and disseminated.
It is my hope that as the organization grows, we develop an even more reciprocal relationship between those that we serve and the staff. I am eager to learn and grow with the network of networks that we are developing.
It is my hope, that we will help to build a field and that thinking about immigration and immigrant-origin youth becomes less of an afterthought and more of a priority. If that happens, much of our work will be focused on translating research into action and sharing an evidence-based framework that will be widely adapted and adopted. That will move us from always been as the center of the work, to a truly networked approach.
What are the three most important skills you focus on developing in the population you serve? Why?
1) Helping people develop the skills to inquire about stories of migration, to do that they will need to learn some of the histories and patterns of migration and recognize how their own perspectives shaped they way they think and act in relation to issues migration. 2) Give educators the skills to reflect on evaluate their own approaches to education about migration and working with immigrant-origin youth and their peers and 3) Providing educators to the skills to take action and apply best practices in the work that they do.
What are the three most important skills you value in your staff members? Why?
1) We all need to be able to learn and recognize our own biases, 2) the skills to be able to work with people with different points of views and a variety of cultural and political perspectives, and 3) I wish I could just list a range of SEL skills here. Seriously, beyond the technical skills we all need to do our work, are the SEL skills that are necessary to work at a mission driven organization with passionate people.
How has technology influenced your field and/or the way your organization works?
It is all about our ability to share information with others and with members of our team. We are a lean organization that relies on the web and social media. That impacts how we develop content and share our stories. I say that with an awareness that both the web and social media have not always proven to be positive environments for serious discussions that challenge biases. I’ve been part of a MacArthur funded network exploring youth political participation in the digital age, and while I see a lot to be inspired by, it is clear that there is a lot that is toxic in the digital space.
On a positive note, I work out of Boston and my colleagues work out of LA (and we all travel too much). Without the access and tools of technology, I don’t know how we would ever be able to work together.
What are some key achievements your organization has accomplished over the last year and how were you able to attain this success?
I am so proud of what we have accomplished in less than a year of work. We’ve developed three major educational resources. Last month we completed a culturally responsive guide for understanding immigrant-origin youth for the New York Department of Education, this winter we produced Immigration and Integration: Jewish Immigrants Letters from the Bintel Brief. It is a great project. We use letters that are full of the dilemmas Jewish immigrants to the US faced at the turn 20th century to provide a window into the past and a mirror for reflecting on issues of migration and acculturation today. We also produced Moving Stories, a migration story telling app. It is free on google play and the apple store. Moving Stories provides a platform to capture stories of migration, whether in this generation and the past. Each of these projects are tools that we are sharing with our network to see how they are able to adapt and shame them in their work.
That said, the most important thing we have done to date, is to plan for our August gathering of fellows and network partners for this summer at UCLA. The proof of our success will be in the work that we have inspired and the number of youth our partners reach.
Have there been any recent obstacles? If so, how were you and your staff able to overcome them?
While you might expect obstacles, we see need, that said, we’ve just begun our work. We could possibly hit obstacles if we are not able to raise the funds in a timely basis.
What’s next for your organization? What are you looking forward to?
I am really looking forward to the August gathering I mentioned earlier. We are planning so many exciting and innovative pilot projects that I cannot wait to see the network come together.
What do you wish others knew about the organization or the populations you serve?
I’ve spoken too much about our work, let me tell you about the immigrants and immigrant-youth. Despite the political rhetoric, immigrants today are integrating as fast or faster than in the past. Of course, that success is put at risk by xenophobia. That said, over the long run, immigration is a good news story. It is what we have done as humans for at least 170,000 years, and it is what we will do in the future. We just need to do a better job creating welcoming communities that understand migration and the strengths and challenges faced by immigrant-origin youth so we can all reach our potential.
- EDWeek: “Immigrant Students Are Internalizing Stereotypes. Educators Can Help” (Sept. 2017).
- Kappanonline.org: “A lesson in civility: The negativity immigrant students hear” (Dec. 2017).
- Jewish Philnathropy: “Their Story is Our Story: Re-Imagining Migration” (March 2018).
- Brookline Hub: “Re-Imagining Migration: Making A Difference Through Education” (Feb. 2018).
- Not in Our Town: “A Conversation With Adam Strom About Language and Immigration” (Feb. 2018).