Teaching Kids About the American Immigrant Experience Is Now Easier
Most immigrant parents—such as myself— that I have met over the years strive to teach their Latinx children about their roots. But the pressure to assimilate can make it more more complicated than it sounds.
Language barriers, fading memories of grandparents, and the lack of time due to everyday responsibilities can make it difficult to tell our stories in a meaningful way to our kids. And Latinx heritage isn't something we grow up learning about in our schools here in the U.S. outside of Hispanic Heritage Month. And even within our own households it can sometimes be difficult to see how multifaceted the Latinx experience actually is. My parents for instance only knew about what life was like in Cuba for highly educated, privileged light-skinned Latinos y Latinas, so that was the only narrative I was familiar with as a kid. It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I took time to learn about the breadth of our Latinx communities.
Now the mother of a 2-year-old, I do want my son to learn about his Cuban ancestors, but I also want him to know about different kinds of American immigrant experiences and learn about what living the American dream means to different familias. Particularly those who immigrated here from Latin America. Thankfully, the Library of Congress is now making that easier for us to not only learn about those stories but hear about them first-hand through video testimonials from American immigrants themselves.
The Immigrant Archive Project
In 2018, Tony Hernández began The Immigrant Archive Project by traveling across the U.S. to capture video interviews with Americans from immigrant families. Since then, he has interviewed thousands of people.
Earlier this month, he received the happy news that the Library of Congress will be archiving his work in the Handbook of Latin American Studies Web Archive. It will become part of a more extensive collection of historically and culturally significant websites that the library has deemed is necessary for preservation, according to NBC News.
Calling his work with immigrants "the quintessential American story," Hernández initially focused on telling the stories of Latinx immigrants, but the project has since expanded to include those from Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The video interviews include stories from celebrities such as singer Luis Fonsi and actor Edward James Olmos. But they don't just deem celebrities worthy of having their stories told, the interviews also include tales from regular Americans who detail their emotional and funny tales. And now, these stories will be widely available and saved for future generations.
Teaching Our Latinx Kids About Our History
Saving these stories for our children is an incredible achievement by Hernández. Being able to access the over 3,000 videos that the The Immigrant Archive Project calls "visual history testimonies" will allow parents like me to show our children stories from our own countries and learn about the journeys of how so many families made a home here in the United States.
For me, this is a crucial part of teaching my son about his background. To know that you are the descendant of an immigrant is one thing but to hear thousands of people telling their stories first-hand about how they got here and the hope that drove them to this country is unforgettable. The common theme amongst most? According to Hernández is "a tremendous amount of optimism and belief that you can create a better life for yourself in the United States." At the very least he says the hope is that they can do something that impacts their children's futures. A feeling we can all relate to.
And for those of us raising multicultural kids this archive allows us to find a variety of American immigrant experiences from across the globe. The journey of how we got here is essential and now forever remembered through this archive.
As for me, I'm not only excited to share the videos with my son that teach him a bit more about how and why his Cuban family migrated here, but as a multicultural family I'm equally excited to share videos that will teach him about his father's German and Polish heritage. To be honest, I'm pretty excited to learn these stories too.