Digital Project Aims to Preserve the Stories of Immigrants for Future Generations

With immigration remaining a hot button issue in today’s political climate, many immigrants living and working in the United States have found themselves relegated to the realm of oversimplified generalizations. Too often, the personal stories and identities of the millions of immigrants who have made their home in the U.S. have been overlooked. Fortunately, a program at the University of Minnesota is seeking to honor the memories, triumphs, and challenges of hundreds of immigrants who have made the state of Minnesota their home, with an eye on expanding this program to other states.

Immigrant Stories was founded in 2013 as part of the university’s Immigration History Research Center (IHRC), and focuses on creating a digital archive centered on the immigrant and refugee experience, particularly those of AsianAmerican immigrants, LatinAmerican immigrants, and the children of European immigrants. So far, the stories of more than 200 immigrants, children of immigrants, and refugees have been documented through brief 3-to-5 minute videos that incorporate video clips, photographs, text, and music. The digital stories are preserved at the IHRC Library, the Minnesota Digital Library, and the Digital Public Library of America. Recently, the Immigrant Stories program received a $320,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency that is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. With the grant, the IHRC hopes to expand the Immigrant Stories projects to regions outside of Minnesota. [See Immigrant Story Archiving Project to Expand Internationally, by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, NBC News, 11.Oct.2016.]

Erika Lee, who is a professor at the University of Minnesota as well as the director of the IHRC, explained in a recent interview with NBC News the importance of the Immigrant Stories project for future generations. “Immigration is one of the most important issues in America and around the world today. Yet, too often, the experiences of immigrants and refugees get lost in the deluge of alarming newspaper reports and statistics driven policy studies that dominate the news cycle. There is an especially urgent need to publicize the diverse experiences of AsianAmericans – the fastest growing group in the U.S. and largely made up of immigrants and the children of immigrants.” Lee added that as part of the expansion of Immigrant Stories, the program will soon be visiting the metro Detroit area to add the stories of ArabAmerican immigrants to the archive. [See In Their Own Words: After Collecting Its 200th Story, U of M Center to Expand ‘Immigrant Stories’ Initiative Across Country, by Gregg Aamot, Minnpost, 26.Sep.2016.]

When immigrants are caught in the crossfire of heated political debate, their intensely personal experiences can be drowned out by rhetoric and stereotypes. But the Immigrant Stories project seeks to preserve and archive the voices of immigrants without any political slant in an effort to inspire future generations.


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