Film Screening: I Learn America

Posted by Mary Hendra on October 30, 2014

In America, nearly one in four children is an immigrant or was born to immigrant parents. Our classrooms are meeting a growing influx of students who speak little to no English, who are unfamiliar with American culture, and, in some cases, who lack formal education. The fate of these young immigrants is at the core of America’s continually emerging identity." - Jean-Michel Dissard, filmmaker

On November 3rd, Facing History and Ourselves is pleased to host a screening of I Learn America: One High School, One School Year, Five New Americans. The screening will be followed by a conversation with UCLA Graduate School of Education Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, filmmaker Jean-Michel Dissard and students featured in the film. Jean-Michel shared some of his thoughts with us in preview of the event.

I LEARN AMERICA_resizedI Learn America: One High School, One School Year, Five New Americans follows five immigrant teenagers over the course of one year at the International High School at Lafayette, a public high school in Brooklyn dedicated to newly arrived immigrants from all over the world.

Facing History: Why did you choose to focus your film on immigration, and these immigrant teenagers?

Jean-Michel: As Marcelo Suárez-Orozco often says: “migration is the norm, not the exception.” It should be treated as such. Immigration should not be seen just as an issue in American life. Each of the new Americans in this film is a window into our world.

People connect to the students in I Learn America. By walking in the shoes of “our five characters” as they encounter everything from learning a new language to social pressure and visa uncertainties, viewers will come to understand how these children – and the millions like them throughout the U.S. – are an integral part of American life today.

Facing History: Why is it important to consider this film and the issues it raises today?

Jean-Michel: Bills to help immigrant families have died repeatedly in Congress. The immigration legal system is not suited to immigrants that have come to this country at a young age. Rather than finding protection, many immigrants face marginalization, hatred, threats, public and private discrimination. As reformers know, we must work on multiple levels to counter these obstacles.

Schools – the first and ultimate hope for integration – are generally ill-equipped to serve immigrant teenagers. Efforts to educate and integrate young immigrants across the country are limited. Especially in neighborhoods and regions where demographics have changed dramatically in recent years, schools lack the resources or understanding to meet the needs of new immigrant students. The traditional paradigm relegates them to the sidelines, yet school offers their first chance for sustained and meaningful participation in a new society. It is in school that they determine where they belong in the reality and imagination of their new culture. It is through interactions with classmates, teachers, coaches, and social workers that they shape their identities.

  • RSVP for the film screening on November 3rd. This event is presented by Facing History and Ourselves and The Allstate Foundation in partnership with the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and UCLA Center X.
  • EXPLORE Facing History's resource collection for teaching about immigration.
  • MEET the students in the film.

Topics: Los Angeles, Urban Education, In the news

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