Zoe's second-grade class is participating in an Ellis Island project today. Each child was assigned to a family from a particular country -- Zoe was Sonia Witeski from Poland. I went this morning to hear each family group present the poster it made for their country, the kids wearing "native" dress or traveling clothes. This afternoon, the groups will "immigrate" through Ellis Island, going to different stations and having to answer questions about whether they've committed crimes or if they have a job in America, getting a medical exam, taking a citizenship test.
The presentations this morning were a hoot. I learned about "Monsterella" cheese from Italy, the "Patriot" Saint of Ireland, and quite a bit about "Chesterlosakia!" And then the reasons for leaving their home countries: "we are leaving because of World War I," from the German family; "we want freedom," from the oppressed family from Norway (!); and my favorite, the Italian family leaving because of the Punic Wars?! (which were fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 to 146 BC!).
Zoe didn't want to be a Polish immigrant at first -- "Why can't I be from China?" I simply explained that people immigrating from China didn't go through Ellis Island, but through Los Angeles. I didn't explain about the Chinese Exclusion Act that prevent most Chinese immigration. When we were looking for a head scarf for her to wear, I was complaining that all the ones we had were silk, and not suitable, and Zoe said, "If I was coming from China I could wear a silk scarf." Hmm, not ready to let that one go, it seems!
Last night, Zoe wanted to talk about everyone she knew who was an immigrant -- Mimi (France), Uncle Jacques )France), Aunt Vickie (Panama), and of course, Maya (China!). Then there's cousin Pascale from France and her son Peter from Sierra Leone, not her son Julian whose from Houston. After we listed them all and located them all on the globe, Zoe asked disgustedly, "Don't we know ANYONE from Australia?" So we're now in the market for an Australian friend, it seems!
I love this project! So much current discussion of immigration is extremely negative and dehumanizing. I love that Zoe is learning about it with a positive cast. And I'm glad we got to talk about immigration and her position as an immigrant -- I think many people don't consider international adoption to be immigration and so don't think the immigrant experience is relevant to our children.