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National Dialogues on Immigration


Wing Luke Museum

Visitors at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, a member of the Immigration Sites of Conscience Network, explore the preserved Yick Fung Company store in Seattle's Chinatown‐International District, the only place in the continental United States where Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese and other immigrants settled together. © Olson Kundig Architects

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.

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