Is immigration good for my country? Is immigration good for my community? Is immigration good for me? Visitors to the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island now have the opportunity to respond to these three deceptively simple questions.
“Navigating Difference” is an interactive installation that opened this November at three immigration-related Sites of Conscience – Ellis Island’s National Museum of Immigration, the Le Bois du Cazier museum in Charleroi, Belgium, and the Galata Museuo del Mare museum in Genoa, Italy. It invites visitors to respond to these questions and compare their responses to those gathered at each site.
The “Navigating Difference” project gives a fresh perspective to today's debates about immigration and migration taking place in the United States and Europe by doing two things. First, it places immigration within a historical context by sharing the stories of those who journeyed before. It also provides a trans-Atlantic aspect to the immigration debates and allows visitors to see how people in other countries feel about the same questions. An interface on the “Navigating Difference” kiosks shows what percentage of visitors voted "yes" or "no" to each question.
But the installations are just the starting point for more in-depth dialogs.
Each museum also hosts a community dialogue program that brings together groups of people with differing perspectives on immigration. The participants then delve into the reasons why people immigrate: both in the past and present. The National Park Service staff on Ellis Island, in partnership with Save Ellis Island, hosted students at New Jersey City University in their recent dialogue program. Some students remembered their childhoods as new immigrants. Others reflected on a very different upbringing, far removed from the contemporary immigrant experience.
"These types of programs are crucial because they allow students to discuss and learn about 'textbook' issues in very real and personal ways," said John Hnedak, the parks’ deputy superintendent. "Ellis Island is the ideal location to foster conversations about immigration with our education and non-profit partners and the general public."
Facilitating conversations about sensitive social issues by connecting past and present is the hallmark of the dialog series.
To learn more about the “Navigating Difference” project, visit the related sites on Flickr and Facebook.
Funding for “Navigating Difference” was provided in part by the Museums & Communities Collaborations Abroad Program, which is made possible by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the American Association of Museums.