National Dialogues on Immigration
In the United States, immigration is a topic that is both personal and local, civic and national – touching on issues of identity, culture, and community as well civil liberties and national security. As a result, the immigration debate has been emotional and contentious at every level of society, from the dinner table to the Senate floor. Too often the debate has reinforced stereotypes and divided communities.
Today, there is an urgent need for new spaces where Americans, including new immigrants, can engage in informed and open dialogue across difference on the enduring and sensitive issue of immigration. As trusted community venues for public education, museums are uniquely positioned to fill this role.
In 2008, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience launched the Immigration and Civil Rights Network of museums and historic sites representing diverse immigration histories, from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York to the Arab American National Museum in Detroit. Civil Rights museums like Levine Museum of the New South enthusiastically joined the network, positioning immigration as a contemporary civil rights issue.
Immigration and Civil Rights Sites of Conscience use historical perspective to foster dialogue on immigration issues among people with diverse perspectives and backgrounds through visceral encounters with the past: visitors sit on the benches in Ellis Island’s cavernous Great Hall where millions waited to enter the US, examine poetry carved into the walls of Angel Island by immigrants detained after the Chinese Exclusion Act, climb into in a segregated bus from the 1960s preserved by the National Civil Rights Museum. These evocative spaces, objects, and exhibits present an uncommon opportunity to connect to the past on a human level.
In 2014, these member sites will launch National Dialogues on Immigration, a cross-regional series of public programs designed to spark a new national conversation on critical immigration topics like citizenship, American identity, border control, freedom of movement, and civil liberties. Using its collections as a springboard, each museum will utilize key stories from its own history as starting points for open dialogue on immigration past and present. Local scholars of American history, government, immigration history, or immigration law will help tailor the programs to address specific local contexts.
In addition to on-site programming, the Coalition will develop an online resource for immigration history, policy information, action opportunities, discussion boards, and even program models for replication at other museums across the country. The goal? To make opportunities for safe, open dialogue on immigration accessible in every community – including yours.
‘National Dialogues on Immigration’ Participating Sites
• Angel Island Immigration Foundation Station, California
• Arab American National Museum, Michigan
• Arizona State Museum, Arizona
• Atlanta History Center, Georgia
• Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, Texas
• Chicago Cultural Alliance, Illinois
• Jane Addams Hull House Museum, Illinois
• Levine Museum of the New South, North Carolina
• Louisiana State Museum/Cultural Alliance of the South, Louisiana
• Lowell National Historical Park, Massachusetts
• Lower East Side Tenement Museum, New York
• Museo Urbano/University of Texas El Paso, Texas
• Museum of International Folk Art, New Mexico
• Museum of Tolerance, California
• National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Georgia
• National Hispanic Cultural Center, New Mexico
• New Mexico History Museum, New Mexico
• Pauli Murray Project/Duke University Human Rights Center, North Carolina
• Statue of Liberty NM & Ellis Island, New York
• Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Washington
This project is made possible with generous support from the National Endowment for Humanities, the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.