“We the people”: Migrant Waves in the Making of America

Institute Description
Mission San Xavier del Bac

This two-week institute for K-12 professionals explores the history of the U.S. through a case study of Arizona, the last continental state added to the union, and a focus on the continuous waves of migration throughout its history. We will explore stories often left out of traditional narratives of U.S. history, which is usually rooted in the thirteen colonies and so erases the experiences of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color. Through interactions with young adult literature, authors, scholars, and museum collections, participants will gain knowledge and strategies to support their classroom teaching. They will then use the inquiry strategies experienced in the Arizona case study to research migrant waves in their own states. The goal is that teachers will gain a knowledge of humanities research strategies to support their teaching and to introduce to their students. 

The institute will be held in-person at Worlds of Words, Center of Global Literacies and Literatures, at the University of Arizona. As the largest collection of global children’s and young adult literature in the U.S., the center provides rich resources of fiction and nonfiction children’s and young adult books. The institute will include many interactions with these books through small group literature discussions and engagements with text sets. In addition, we will visit museums to interact with their archives, engage in conversations with scholars after reading their articles, meet with the authors of the young adult books that we read, and take several field trips to Indigenous sites. Tucson is geographically unique due to its proximity to the Tohono O’odham Nation and the US-Mexico border, and offers a wealth of cultural centers, including the Dunbar Pavilion African American Arts and Cultural Center, the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center, the Jewish History Museum, the San Xavier Mission, and the Arizona State Museum.

Because Arizona became a state in 1912, the last of the 48 contiguous states to be admitted to the union, its historical timeline provides a contrast with traditional depictions of U.S. history. The following eras guide our institute, derived from the work of one of our visiting scholars (Sheridan, 2012), to highlight the contributions of under-represented groups in Arizona history. 

  • The original Indigenous inhabitants date back to 10,000 BCE.  The Hohokam people began building villages along the Gila River around 1 A.D. leading to a rich history of Indigenous communities and our current context of 26 tribal nations within the state.
  • The Spanish period spans from 1528-1821 with Spanish troops and Franciscan priests establishing Spanish colonies and missions that overlap with the momentous events of 1776 in the original colonies, and included a visit by the first African explorer to the U.S.
  • From 1821-1848, the Mexican period began when the region became part of Sonora, Mexico and ended after the Mexican-American War, when the U.S. purchased a large region from Mexico in 1848 and another section in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase.
  • The Territorial period from 1848-1912 overlaps the Civil War. Arizona split from the territory of New Mexico to become its own territory in 1863. Miners arrived from the east coast and Ireland and Texans brought large-scale ranching. Chinese railroad workers arrived in 1880, establishing a Chinatown and integrating into Mexican neighborhoods. In 1886, Geronimo and Apache warriors surrendered to U.S. forces, the last American Indian warrior to do so. Arizona officially became a state on February 14, 1912.
  • Statehood/Modern Period, 1912-present. World War II brought migrant waves due to the construction of large military bases with Fort Huachuca becoming one of the largest all-Black Army forts. In addition, two Japanese incarceration camps were established on reservation land, and Navajo and Hopi code talkers created an unbreakable military code. After WWII, refrigeration and air conditioning led to a population boom as Phoenix became one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., bringing many migrants and retirees from the east coast and Midwest, and establishing a strong tourism industry.

This complex history is based in constantly evolving migrant waves of diversity that continue to transform the state. Arizona is currently one of the top 10 states in annual refugee arrivals, coming from Somalia, Congo, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Bhutan, among many others.  The central focus surrounding this institute is in understanding the way that migration has been a constant characteristic of our history, not an anomaly.

The institute is also grounded in the importance of participants learning how to research and weigh evidence within the humanities as they explore historical content alongside fictional narratives. K-12 educators will be immersed in research to develop strategies for locating, evaluating and interpreting evidence. The two-week length of the institute provides time for educators to become researchers as well as learn from scholars, authors, and researchers. Participants will leave the institute with resources and literature along with lived experiences of engaging in research as a basis for planning curriculum.   

During the first week, each day will focus on one of the time periods, so participants gain experiences in merging historical and literary sources. During the second week, we will revisit each time period to highlight a humanities research strategy and participants will research the histories and migrant waves of their states, juxtaposing Arizona events with their state contexts and major developments in the country. Inquiry questions for the institute include:

  • What are the ways in which different waves of migrants influence and contribute to the making of a state? Of a nation?  
  • What histories have been erased and how might they be recovered? How do those recovered histories deepen our understanding of what it means to be American?
  • What research strategies, processes, and sources are used within the humanities to locate, evaluate, and interpret evidence?
  • How does learning about Arizona inform how teachers conceptualize the formation of their home states?

The major themes are connecting history to the migrations of people in shaping state and national identity, reclaiming silenced stories, and understanding inquiry processes and strategies in the humanities.