Immigration classes are frequently an exercise in myth-busting and that was precisely what I set out to do with the Zinn Education Project’s lesson about the deportation of Mexican Americans during the Great Depression.
The lesson is composed of separate group-focused documents and indictment analysis/scenario problem-solving. The class was immediately interested in the topic itself, not knowing yet that Mexican Americans were part of the American immigration experience during the Great Depression and that they were already dealing with deportations so long ago. It was easy to link to current political problems to the past through it, while also allowing a particular focus on the differences, like the larger human cost of current political maneuvers that have already left a deeply worrying footprint in our history.
My students completed the document activity from the lesson with enthusiasm, but what came after took me by surprise: students stayed interested. They went on to research and listen to podcast interviews to get to the real stories behind the people who were deported during the Depression.
That “Deportations on Trial” led to an organic, student-led research project that is a testament to the strength of this lesson as an enabler of deep and relevant class discussions.