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Signature Project Assignment: Beyond Boundaries

For the signature project you will conduct oral history interview(s) of someone who has migrated to the United States. In your interview(s) you will explore with your subject why s/he/they migrated to the United States when they migrated. Why did they came to New Jersey (or NYC)? What challenges did they encountered (and/or continue to encounter) after their arrival (see below for topics that you might consider exploring in your interview).

Criteria for Success: This project measures your semester’s progress toward developing effective writing skills and responsible attitudes toward citizenship in a culturally complex world. Your project grade will be based on 1) your effort to design and revise an effective project; 2) your effort to provide a historical context for your immigrant story based on our primary and secondary readings; and 3) your project’s efficacy as measured against standard university-wide learning goals rubrics.

You will be discussing your work in class, informally. Some of you will be presenting your drafts to the class. Your classmates (and I) will help you hone your ability to tell stories and translate that storytelling into writing. (See “Workshopping” on the syllabus and the Course Schedule.) Workshopping each other’s drafts will be a learning experience for everyone, including those who are not presenting their work on a particular day. You will learn to think critically (and productively) as others comment on your work and you comment on other people’s work.

Writing is 95 percent revision. I expect everything that you hand in – including one-paragraph summaries — to be proofread. If you hand in work that is sloppy — with grammatical errors, incomplete sentences, misspelled words, no introduction or paragraphs with topic sentences, and essays without conclusions — you will receive a lower grade, or no credit at all. If I write on the summary of your interview subject that you need help with your writing, please seek help in The Hub, located on the first floor of the library. During the COVID crisis you may meet with tutors remotely. https://www.njcu.edu/academics/resources-services/centralized-tutoring-academic-support-services Once we return to campus you will be able to work with tutors either remotely or in the Hub.

There is no shame in learning how to write. Nobody is born with writing skills. We all learn how to write. Writing is a skill that will help you no matter what you do after your finish college.

Further Instructions:

An oral history interview is dialogic, which means that it is shaped by the interviewer and interviewee. You will choose an interview subject during the first week of class. You should choose someone who is available for more than one interview. Some of the required readings will help you shape and deepen the narrative, especially chapters 5 and 6 of Gerber. Please listen carefully to the oral history interview with Vera Clarke Ifill, assigned for Monday 24 January.

Consider the following questions when listening to Ifill and preparing for your own interviews:

· Where was the person born and what was their life like growing up? What do they remember about the house they lived in, the school they went to, their parents and extended families, etc. Everybody has a history before they arrive in the U.S. Moreover, their story of migration doesn’t begin when they first stepped foot in this country.

· Where did your subject migrate to? And why? It is not enough to say they came to the U.S. or New York or New Jersey. Was their migration experience part of a “chain migration”? (see Gerber for that term?) Did they have relatives or friends living in the place where they migrated to? What does your subject remember about their first days in their new community? Language? Food? Customs? Laws? Friends? What stories do they tell?

· Has your subject migrated (either within his or her home country or to another country) before coming to the United States?

· Had the immigrant been to the United States before? Did the immigrant know anybody in the United States?

· What did the immigrant know (or think they knew) about the U.S. before deciding to emigrate? How did they know? To what extent were the immigrant’s expectations met and to what extent were they not met?

· Was New York/New Jersey the immigrant’s first destination in the United States, or did they originally go to some other place?

· How did the immigrant choose New York/New Jersey as his or her destination?

· Did your subject plan to settle permanently in the United States, or for a short time, perhaps long enough to send money home? Has this changed? If it has, why?

· How did your subject make new friends after coming to the U.S.?

· Who were their first friends? Were they mostly from their home country? A neighborhood in their home country? From the region (ie, Central America?)? Or did they make mostly American friends? Can they tell stories about meeting their friends? What about stories about meeting their spouse? Where did they meet? Is their spouse from their home country? Is their spouse a recent immigrant?

· Has the immigrant learned English since coming to the United States? Or did they speak English in their home country?

· Has he or she remained active in the communities of his or her country of origin? Has he or she become active in immigrant community in the United States? How?

· Has your subject become a leader (or noteworthy follower) involved in a specific civic aim or issue (including the arts)?

· Has the immigrant become active in, e.g., a church, union, political organization, etc., in the United States?

If you are writing about an undocumented immigrant pay special attention to Vargas, especially his long descriptions of how he discovered that he was “illegal” and how this has affected his life going forward. Even if you are writing about an immigrant who is legally in this country, consider Vargas’ descriptions of immigration law (specifically Hart-Cellar); and also “The New Normal?,” the last reading on the syllabus by David Gutiérrez.

Most important, keep in mind that this assignment is about storytelling; you are listening to your subject tell their story and then placing that story in a narrative with historical context.

Your paper is due on May 2, the last day of class. Hopefully, we’ll be meeting on campus and you can hand it to me. Otherwise, please save the paper as a Word doc, not a Google doc or a pdf, before sending it to me (aoltman@njcu.edu).



Merino 2


Alicia Rodriguez’s Story

New Jersey City University

Beyond boundaries Global History

Professor Oltman

Alicia Rodriguez’s Story

I interviewed Alicia Rodriguez, who was born on 15 January 1960. Alicia was born in a town called Oaxaca in Mexico, where she grew up on a farm. She says she enjoyed her life on the farm and has only fond memories of her life in Oaxaca. Her mother died of pneumonia when Alicia was young, and her father raised her. She went to a school in the region, and her father was the biggest influence in her life, urging her to work hard in school. Although she was good, she ended up dating a narco (a drug trafficker).

Alicia migrated to the US when she was 15 years old, around the year 175. Alicia and her father traveled from Mexico to America using a plane and eventually settled in Texas. Alicia’s migration was not chain migration. This is because she left Mexico with her family and without influence from anyone. They followed no one to America. She found that she had some extended family in the area who provided them with accommodation and supported them with the transition. Her first days in the community were smooth because she mostly stayed around people she knew. She could not speak English very well, and before she learned, she preferred to stay home and talk to her family members. She found American food and customs intriguing, and she adapted well to them. She also found and made friends easier.

Alicia had not migrated outside the country before coming to the United States. She grew up in Oaxaca, and she did not travel outside the country before she came to America. This is because her family was not very rich, and she could not travel much. Her father was a single parent, and the reason why she was able to travel to America was that she had extended family living in America.



Edilberto Merino

Professor Oltman

Beyond Boundaries

24 January 2022


Women have faced adversity like being called weak or soft but in reality they go through a lot and overcome that stigma, for instance the woman that was able to tell me her rollercoaster of a life story. From coming to the United States with no home to facing abusive relationships and working multiple jobs while being underpaid, Alicia Rodriguez went through it all. Growing up in Puebla Mexico Alicia was raised by a strict father who was very stern about her school. Growing up with no mother, a small apartment and her dad barely making money her only option to succeed in her eyes was to stick to school. In Mexico the school system isn’t the best so did her best to get her grades up even when she barely got any help.


• Where was the person born and what was their life like growing up? What do they remember about the house they lived in, the school they went to, their parents and extended families, etc. Everybody has a history before they arrive in the U.S. Moreover, their story of migration doesn’t begin when they first stepped foot in this country.