CLAS Outreach Program
"Teachers' Workshop on Migrations"

February 5, 2002

Teachers at photographs at the Berkeley Art Museum Migrations Exhibit.

OUSD Teachers Explore Migration
Annette Rubado-Mejia, CLAS Outreach Coordinator

On February 5, 2002, teachers and officials from the Oakland Unified School District gathered at the Center for Latin American Studies for the Outreach Programs’ Migration Workshop. An important opportunity to augment the collaboration between CLAS and the OUSD technology learning center, the Migration Workshop is part of a project for the development of a learning community to promote knowledge, pedagogy, and awareness of Latin American history, culture, and politics. It provided a forum for strengthening content knowledge of migration, exploring ways to incorporate migration issues into teaching practice, and connecting teachers with more resources to develop lessons appropriate for their students.

To begin the workshop, Sandra Nichols, a PhD candidate in geography specializing in Mexico-U.S. transnational migrant networks, gave a presentation titled, "Migration and its Impact on Both Sides of the Border: the Webs of Connection." First, Nichols presented an overview of the history of U.S.–Mexico relations and migration from Mexico to the U.S. She illuminated the reasons why Mexicans migrate, the difference between rural and urban migration, and the need for labor in the United States. She explained that traditional models conceptualize migration in terms of pull and push factors that lead to transnational movement and later to assimilation; the current model, on the other hand, focalizes migration as systems that are determined by specific historical, political, and economic circumstances. The Mexico-U.S. migration system, for example, is a labor driven system because in both the sending and receiving country, labor is the determining impetus either to move or to seek a stable supply of cheap workers. Throughout this portion of the presentation, Nichols emphasized Mexican migration from the perspective of the migrants.

Nichols proceeded to illustrate what a transnational migrant network is and how it functions. With a slide presentation and maps she described three communities in Mexico that have a significant number of people migrating to the United States, specifically Napa, California. Nichols made the U.S.-Mexico migration system come to life by creating a visual connection to the migratory patterns and relationships. Her slides depicted the generations of families that have migrated, the seasonal nature of migration, the connections many migrants retain to their home communities, and the new connections formed after migration. The slides also helped create a visual understanding of the types of civic projects migrants undertake in their home communities: peach orchards, school improvements, potable water systems, and new central plazas.

Nichols’ presentation stimulated a number of questions and comments: such as how migration influences women and how economic class relates to migration. Teachers could place their students on the map of sending states in Mexico and many could draw direct connections between the talk and the experiences of their students.

Later in the day, the teachers viewed over 300 photographs in the Berkeley Art Museum exhibit, Migrations: Photographs by Sebastião Salgado. They received a guided tour from Laura Hobson, a graduate student in political science, who provided background information about Salgado and the historical circumstance of the pictures. Analyzing the photographer’s intent, Hobson also explored the aesthetic qualities of particular photos. Some of the questions that arose during the tour were:

Do we see ourselves in Salgado’s photos?

What kind of distance do we put between ourselves and the people in the photos (or the people we encounter in life)?

Why are contrasts, like chaos/stillness, tradition/modernity, and beauty/tragedy, so important in Salgado’s photography?

What is humanity?

Is the beauty supposed to make the viewer feel uncomfortable?

What is the most important stimulus for migration in the contemporary world?

What clichés arise from these photos? Why do clichés so readily describe tragedy?

The questions caused everyone to consider his or her role in the forced migration and suffering of others. Several teachers commented on the effectiveness of the photos in capturing important moments in history and in the contemporary world, and in revealing the story that led up to the moment captured in the photo. The thematic framework of the photos as they relate to each other begins to examine what it means to be human, the causes and results of hatred and poverty, and the exhilarating instinct for survival.

The tour inspired many teachers to consider incorporating the exhibit into their teaching practices and curriculum. Some teachers sketched plans for visiting the museum with their students. One teacher decided to incorporate the exhibit into an existing Holocaust unit by asking students to compare the experiences of Holocaust victims with the experiences depicted in the photos. He foresaw asking each student to research and tell the story of one of the photos. Other teachers planned to develop lessons that used the photos to explore the reasons why people move across boundaries and distances, the criteria of the migrants in choosing where to go, and the differences and similarities between urban and international migration.

Encouraged by this highly informative and inspirational workshop, the CLAS Outreach Program plans to hold a summer institute on political and economic change in 20th century Mexican history. The Summer Institute will have an open registration; please contact Annette Rubado-Mejía for more information.


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