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​Green Card Voices

Culture | September 28th, 2016

By Brittney Goodman goodmanbritg@gmail.com

Minneapolis-based Green Card Voices uses digital and written storytelling to share personal narratives of America’s immigrants, with current special emphasis on immigrant students.

They began in 2015 with a teaching guide: " Voices of Immigrant Storytellers: Teaching Guide for Middle and High Schools" which focuses on teaching immigration for middle and high school students using stories, along with lessons, worksheets and activities. This was followed by “Green Card Youth Voices: Immigration Stories from a Minneapolis High School.”

And now, the next stop is creating a book of immigration stories from 30 students in a Language Arts class at Fargo South High School, replicating the process used in the Minneapolis high school book. The thirty individual video narratives will be posted online and the written personal essays will be published in a book.

Green Card Voices’ programming seeks to foster tolerance and increase the appreciation of the immigrant experience. They seek to empower educational institutions, community groups and individuals alike to acquire first-person perspective about immigrants’ lives.

Earlier in September, Green Card Voices traveled to Fargo to meet with South High School teacher Leah Juelke and principal Todd Bertsch to start this new book project involving 30 English Learners (EL). This will be partially funded by the Bush Foundation.

Fargo South High School currently has 175 immigrant students, which is reaching approximately the 20 percent mark of student population, and the percentage is increasing.

Tea Rozman-Clark, Executive Director of Green Card Voices and a 2015-2017 Bush Fellow, says that one purpose for creating this book and doing this project at Fargo South High School, is that the school and community are looking for “ways to create a welcoming environment and to create connections, empathy, and a cohesive, supportive community as a whole."

According to Rozman-Clark, Green Card Voices started first with a teaching guide because they noticed that “a lot of the time, teachers do not have up-to-date resources on how to teach immigration in the classroom. Immigrants have changed their motivations and reasons. The community is changing fast. We thought it was important to produce that book to help teachers prepare a curriculum to teach about contemporary immigrants.”

The process of creating a Green Card Voices book is to first make a visual and audio record of the students telling their stories, and then transcripts are created. The students then use these transcripts to produce their own original essays.

Rozman-Clark will be visiting Fargo South High School on September 28 to help prepare the students in Leah Juelke’s class. Then, from October 3-6, the videographers and others will be there to record the stories.

Rozman-Clark says that “students have been practicing and by the time we come for the recording, they will be confident. They are going to walk away from this experience very much empowered and they are going to know that their story is an asset and it is up to them how to capitalize on that.”

Rozman-Clark describes why Green Card Voices projects are important: "First of all, the way we work with using the oral part and working with students to write their stories is important. The individual student benefits as he or she gets to practice English, writing, and speaking, and they get to hones these skills. This helps them eventually present themselves well in seeking a job, and more.

“The essay they produce is even useful for college essays. Also, the book that results is important. The students are all excited to be in the book. Students in the Fargo book come from 21 countries.

“One thing is true for a vast majority of these students; books are not as prevalent as in the U.S. in their countries. Lastly, there is a benefit for the educational system. Local high schools throughout North Dakota will have a very concrete resource to use.

“Students don't tend to connect to people who lived in a different century. The closer geographically and in time, the easier it is to connect. We share their hobbies, their dreams, whether they have brothers, sisters, and what we love about them. We mix the story with everyday things and the challenges and opportunities. In that respect it is a great resource for schools.”

“The book is also good for the community at large. There is a lot of negative media coverage about immigrants; it is extremely important to complete the narrative. By really sharing the personal story, people get to understand the background, what their contribution is, and how we can all make this community better. By sharing stories on a more personal level - a more comprehensive way - we complete the narrative. People don't have room to jump to conclusions and they can see that every story is different from the next. We need to go deeper into the story – and realize that every person is unique and that jumping to conclusions is not a wise idea."

Rozman-Clark laments that the category of nonfiction in the area of diversity “is literally empty; there are no books like that out there.” She says that we have “lost a lot of voices” because of the fear that the fear that the immigrants’ English language skills are not at a certain level, and this is a great loss. She continues, “We have not given opportunity to share these stories. We have probably missed an entire generation of voices.” Thus, Green Card Voices is working to fill this gap.

There will be a launch celebrating the book publication in March, 2017. Following the launch will be a series of book readings at libraries, book stores, and various other spaces. Rozman-Clark says that she has been working with fellow Bush Fellow and NDSU professor Kevin Brooks, as well as Lutheran Social Services, the Immigrant Development Center and other local organizations.

After the Fargo South High book is complete, Green Card Voices plans to move along to do similar projects in Sioux Falls, St. Paul, and Boise, Idaho. They never do a book in a community without first visiting and talking with a school and getting buy-in.

Rozman-Clark and Green Card Voices are only interested in presenting narratives from a local perspective: "Stories are only effective if they are authentic and local. It's extremely important to have it tailored to each community."

YOU SHOULD KNOW Website: www.greencardvoices.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/GreenCardVoices

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