Closer Readings Commentary

Connecting the Past and Present with the Immigrant Stories Project

Immigrants being registered at one end of the Main Hall, U. S. Immigration Station.
Photo caption

Immigrants being registered at one end of the Main Hall, U. S. Immigration Station, c. 1902-1909.

Elizabeth Venditto, Ph.D., is an immigration historian and manages the Immigrant Stories project at the Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota.*

How can we help students better understand the long history of immigration to the United States and the experiences of contemporary immigrants and refugees? How do we encourage students to compare immigrant groups and eras of immigration through the experiences of individuals and families? How can students understand their place within this long history and immigration’s impact on shaping an increasingly diverse society?

The Immigrant Stories project helps teachers meet these challenges by helping students think thoughtfully and comparatively about individual immigration experiences.

Run by the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, Immigrant Stories is a digital storytelling and archiving project that collects, shares, and preserves immigration history, past and present. Digital stories are original 3 to 5 minute videos made from a combination of images, text, and audio. Teachers can use Immigrant Stories as a resource for studying historical and contemporary immigration through primary sources. The Immigrant Stories website can also help students produce their own digital stories.

Watching stories


"These are events I learned in high school and college. However, something was missing: the narratives and experiences of my family’s immigration story and stories of countless more refugees from Laos. 1986 was also the year that my family arrived to the United States." 

Saengmany Ratsabout 

The Immigrant Stories Collection contains hundreds of digital stories and is publicly accessible. Individuals from more than 45 different ethnic groups have already created and shared their digital story about a personal or family migration experience. Immigrant Stories also addresses a range of topics faced by newcomers and their families, including: refugee stories; maintaining family ties across borders; adjusting to life in a new country; immigrant entrepreneurship; immigration bureaucracies; international adoption; and reflections on language, race, and identity.  

Immigrant Stories work as powerful primary sources for history and social studies lessons examining immigration, race, citizenship, and culture. Each video tells a brief and self-contained story, so that one or two videos are able to be shown and discussed during a single class period. To help teachers find stories of interest, we highlight them by theme on our website’s Digital Exhibits page.

Making stories


"This is my story about tortillas at the breakfast table and what it’s meant to me personally as a second generation Mexican immigrant, growing up closer to Lake Superior than the Rio Grande."

Adam Martinez 

Immigrant Stories provides tools and training to help individuals tell their own stories in their own words. Anyone is welcome to create a digital story. We have free curriculum to help your students make their own videos. To get started, download the free PDFs on our website under the “Immigrant Stories”/Toolkits section (found under the header tab “Research & Public Programming”). Our classroom curriculum contains lesson plans, simple technical instructions, a grading rubric, and a student resource packet. To make it easier for you, we break the project down into small, cumulative assignments: 1) a story topic and outline; 2) a full story draft; 3) a storyboard to plan the video; 4) a first draft of the video; 5) a polished 3 to 5 minute video.

In October 2016, Immigrant Stories was also proud to launch a separate story-making website where students can create and share a digital story. The website features writing prompts, instructional videos, and video editing software. Using this free website only requires a computer or a larger-sized tablet connected to the Internet. Users create an account where they save their work, so students can complete their entire project within the website and work on any computer.

Students 15 and older may share their video with Immigrant Stories for long-term preservation. Immigrant Stories are professionally archived by the Immigration History Research Center Archives (IHRCA) at the University of Minnesota, which is North America’s largest archive of immigrant life. Students who have previously shared their videos expressed the desire to see more stories like theirs in history and social studies classes.

Making connections


"I am over 60 now. If I don’t share this, it will die with me and no one will know. Please, love your parents and elders. We hold the pain of missing our country." 

Manichan Xiong

Immigrant Stories helps students learn about migration broadly through individual stories. Migration has multigenerational effects, and family and second-generation stories are crucial to a complex picture of immigration past and present. Therefore, we do not limit participation to people living outside the country of their birth or people who consider themselves immigrants.

Most videos in the Immigrant Stories Collection address immigration within the past 50 years. But there are also many stories about older migrations created by elders and others who talk about parents, grandparents, and the effects they had on their families. In fact, the entire collection includes stories spanning more than a century.

Finally, Immigrant Stories gives students a unique opportunity to learn about immigrants from their own perspectives and to compare immigrants from different origins, eras, and life experiences. The project is a living and participatory archive, one which we hope students will explore, enjoy, and contribute to.

*To learn more about Immigrant Stories, contact Elizabeth at: and visit:

Note: Immigrant Stories shares all videos and their transcripts through the Digital Public Library of America. Students can also search through the collection to find sources for class projects.