Class dips into idea of melting pot

Bethany English

New course provides insight of immigrant roles in America

Kent State offered students a new course this semester that explored the significance of immigration in America’s past, present and future.

Sociology professor Joanna Dreby teaches the class Immigration Communities, which is about immigration laws and policies in the United States. She invites immigrants to come in and tell the class their personal stories.

With politics focused on topics such as illegal immigration, Dreby said it was important to give students a more complete understanding of the role immigrants play in a society.

“Immigration is shaping the world,” Dreby said. “People are moving in all different directions.”

One of the biggest concerns involved with immigration is the topic of illegal immigrants. Dreby also covers this in her class, but she focuses more on how many legal pathways into America have been closed, which forces people to come illegally.

Luis Paz, a graduate student pursuing a master’s in translation, said he knows immigration will continue to be an important topic in our country, and this class provided another side to the discussion.

“A lot of times, we only see one side on the news, and it’s anti-immigration,” Paz said. “This class puts a more ‘human face’ on the people who come here.”

Paz said most immigrants come to find better lives through job opportunities or education; they are not in the United States to “take over.”

Rebeca Puentes said as the daughter of immigrants, she was able to share her stories and experiences with her classmates. She could tell them what immigrating to another country has meant for her family.

“My dad started with nothing, but he’s worked his way up,” Puentes said. “He works harder, so he gets treated better.”

She said many people stereotype immigrants as poor Mexicans, but that isn’t always the case.

“We all have different stories about why we are here,” Puentes said. “They come to work and make a better life for themselves and their families.”

At his job in the North Hill area of Akron, Paz said he sees all kinds of people, including Mexicans, Burmese, Russians and Middle Eastern immigrants.

Though the latest news about immigration spurred his interest, Paz said he finds some irony when people fume over immigration.

“It’s interesting to me when I hear people, some of the more rightwing groups, screaming, ‘We want our country back!’” Paz said. “I wonder what Native Americans think of that?”

Dreby also said that the United States is a “nation of immigrants.” She said most of the people living in America today came from another place at some point in the past.

Puentes said the topic of illegal Mexican immigrants is just the newest cycle of immigration. The immigration arguments used to be more focused on other groups, such as the Irish and Italians, but Mexicans are the new focus.

“It’s just a new cycle, and there is always going to be new cycles,” Puentes said. “We call ourselves the melting pot, so why are we criticizing it?”

Contact international and honors reporter Bethany English at [email protected].