Can Assembling Immigrant Stories Bring Change?
Recently I got a letter in the mail from former U.S. Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal. This was not completely out of the blue. I had sent him, with some misgivings, a copy of my new book containing recollections he shared of his first job in business in the 1950s. Blumenthal had dispatched that episode of his life in his memoir with a few paragraphs. “I spent four intense and insane years at Crown Cork International.”
There he had a complicated relationship with his then-boss who, like Blumenthal, came to America as a young refugee from a war-torn Europe.
When I interviewed Blumenthal about that relationship for the book, he voiced skepticism about my project. So I was doubtful he’d think much of a book that devoted space to his old mentor. Now I was relieved to read his letter: “You may recall that I voiced some surprise that there was enough in your subject matter for an interesting story,” he wrote. “Now I see that there was!”
This echoed what Madeline Lohman, a senior researcher with the Minnesota-based Advocates for Human Rights, sees in immigrant narratives: The people closest to them (often the children) don’t get a full picture of the immigration story until much later. Read my story on the Richmond Times-Dispatch about how a group in Minnesota decided to put immigrant stories at the heart of a way to educate people about the U.S. immigration system.
And check out the lesson plans developed by Lohman’s team.