During June the United States celebrates Immigrant Heritage Month, paying tribute to the diverse immigrant groups that enrich our nation’s history and culture. The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to have funded numerous projects that preserve and document a wide array of immigrant experiences and showcase the contributions immigrants have made to American life.
NEH-Supported Projects on Immigration and the Immigrant Experience:
Immigrant Stories and Global Minnesota
NEH grants supported two University of Minnesota efforts to capture immigrant history. In 2015, the NEH awarded the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) a Digital Humanities Implementation grant to expand Immigrant Stories, which lets recent immigrants and refugees share their personal histories through short videos. In 2016, IHRC received a Humanities in the Public Square grant for Global Minnesota, a yearlong series of public forums and community events on “old” and “new” immigration in the state.
Migration Stories, at the Kansas African Studies Center at the University of Kansas, gathers testimonies from African immigrants and studies the impact of African immigration on the Midwest. NEH grants funded events such as lectures and film screenings to promote dialog on immigration and American identities and support the production of humanities resources for African immigrants, such as an English-Somali dictionary. Become involved with Migration Stories by sharing your story.
Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion
The NEH-funded exhibition Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion focuses on the centuries-long history of trade between China and the U.S. and on the complex history of Chinese-American identity. After debuting at the New-York Historical Society in New York City in 2014, the exhibition is now on permanent view at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco, CA.
All Nations: Preserving the Ethnic Heritage of Butte, Montana
With a 2019 NEH Common Heritage grant, the Butte Silver Bow Public Archives conducted four workshops to collect oral histories, documents, artifacts, and cultural works from the Hispanic, German, Finnish, and Jewish populations that settled in Butte. These materials were then used for a series of interactive exhibitions designed to build understanding of and public appreciation for each group’s role in Montana history.
Return to Oaxacalifornia
This 90-minute documentary, funded by a 2020 NEH Media Projects Production grant, is the sequel to Trisha Ziff’s 1995 film on the Mejia family. Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, the Mejias emigrated to the U.S. forty years ago and have lived in California ever since. In her first film, Ziff interviewed the Mexican Mejia parents and their American-born children about their experiences living between two countries and cultures. In this film, Ziff returns to talk with the family one generation later, considering anew what is lost and gained in immigration and assimilation. Learn more about the project by visiting the International Documentary Association’s website.
Ethiopian Music and Musicians in the United States
Supported by an NEH Fellowship for University Teachers, Professor Kay K. Shelemay of Harvard University is studying the music of Ethiopian immigrants. Ethiopians comprise one of the largest African communities forced to migrate in the late twentieth century, and Shelemay’s work sheds light on the expressive culture of Ethiopian Americans, contributing to a deeper understanding of music’s role in community-building.
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Visit the interactive exhibitions at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s 103 Orchard Street site. The building’s unique history offers a glimpse into the lives of three families that inhabited the apartments after WWII. Through their stories, a wider picture of Jewish, Puerto Rican, and Chinese immigration comes into view. The museum, whose expansion was supported by numerous NEH grants, currently offers in-person and virtual tours. You can also share your family’s own immigration story through their “Your Story, Our Story” program.
Islam and the U.S.
This episode of the NEH-funded podcast BackStory looks at America’s relationship with Islam from the Barbary Wars of the early nineteenth century to the present day, asking, “What does it mean to be Muslim in America?”
The Italian Americans
An NEH grant supported the production and development of this four-part PBS series chronicling the contributions of Italian Americans and the many ways that Italian immigration from nineteenth century to the present have challenged the notion of the American “melting pot.”
The American Writers Museum used a 2019 NEH grant to plan My America, an interactive exhibition of writing by recent immigrants and refugees. My America, which can be viewed online, includes educational materials and an area for visitors to share their own immigration histories. Check out the exhibition’s related events to learn more about the immigrant and refugee experience in the twenty-first century.
Immigration and the Making of African America
The story of African diasporic immigrants to the U.S., and of their relationship to native-born African Americans, is largely untold. Through a conference and forthcoming publication, the Immigration and the Making of America project, supported by a 2019 NEH Collaborative Research Grant, uncovers 150 years of this history and adds nuance to our understanding of Blackness in America.
Newest Americans details the lives and stories of immigrants in one of America’s oldest cities, Newark, NJ. Since 2014, Newest Americans has produced exhibitions, educational materials, and engaging forms of public history. In 2017, NEH supported the expansion of the project, funding community-based scholarship focused on three Newark neighborhoods that have been shaped by multiple waves of new immigrants since the 1965 Immigration Act. The grant also helped fund the design and implementation of neighborhood tours conducted on the Newark Story Bus, a school bus retrofitted as a public media lab and training facility.
Religion, Race, and Immigration: How American Jews, Catholics, and Protestants Faced Mass Immigration, 1882–1924
This summer, scholar Anne Blankenship, of North Dakota State University, will use an NEH Summer Stipend to work on a book project exploring how Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant leaders and organizations responded to mass immigration to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century and the subsequent immigration restrictions that peaked with the National Origins Act of 1924. In past summers, Professor Blankenship has participated in NEH-funded institutes on “Judaism and the American South” and on “American Material Culture.”
Our Stories: South Asian Americans in Los Angeles
The South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), based in Philadelphia, PA, is the largest publicly accessible archive preserving the history of South Asian Americans. Their Our Stories initiative, funded by a 2016-17 NEH grant, sought to uncover little-known or under-documented stories of South Asian Americans living in the “Little India” and “Little Bangladesh” neighborhoods of Los Angeles, CA. Digitized heritage materials from these communities, collected through public programs and events supported by the NEH grant, are available to view on the SAADA website.
A major NEH grant funded Becoming American, a six-week public program featuring documentary film screenings and moderated discussions on contemporary immigration issues and the history of immigration in the U.S.
Thanks to a 2011 NEH Faculty Research Award, Andrew Sandoval-Strausz was able to study the many ways Latin American immigrants have transformed urban America through the use of both architectural and social space. To learn more about his research, listen to his lecture, “Migrantes, Negocios, and Infraestructura: Transnational Processes of Urban Revitalization in the Americas,” given at the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Science and Policy Forum, or read his 2019 book, Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City.
NEH’s educational website, EDSITEment, offers resources for teaching the history of U.S. immigration, including, Connecting the Past and Present with the Immigrant Stories Project, Everything Your Students Need to Know About Immigration History, and Where I Come From.
Humanities Magazine Articles:
Helvetia, a Traditional Swiss Village in the Hills of West Virginia
How Americans View Muslims—And What They Don’t See
What Sets Italian Americans Off from Other Immigrants?
The Chinese Exclusion Act Raised the Price of Becoming an American
Immigration and the Brahmins
Flamenco Family Portrait
Project Director Q&A: Immigrant Stories
50 States of Preservation: The Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois
From Zanzibar to Barclay Square and Back
Chronicling America’s Historic German Newspapers and the Growth of the American Ethnic Press
The Latino Experience
State Humanities Council Approaches to Serving Immigrants and to Telling Their States’ Migration Stories
Spanish Immigrant Transforms America’s Urban Architecture
New Mexico, New Spain, Old Cultures: Historic Spanish Language Newspapers in Chronicling America
The Tenement Museum and the Story of American Immigration: A Free Public Lecture