Welcome to Fresh off the Boat
. This site was designed to present the final projects of the Irvine High School AP U.S. History classes of 2008-2009. To read the students' papers describing the lives of recent immigrants to the United States, click on "Countries." Or, to read student reviews of books related to immigration, click on "Books." We hope you enjoy exploring these unique tales of modern-day immigration.
When we chose the title of our project, "Fresh Off the Boat," my student authors and editors were a little concerned about the phrase. After all, at our immigrant-filled school, the term F.O.B. is a disparaging term poking fun at new arrivals. The term has a long tradition, not only referring to Asian immigrants, but also to the countless waves of immigrants who made America their destination; at one point even Christopher Columbus was a F.O.B.
While we reject the phrase as a put-down, we embrace it as a historic term and, for much of our history, a literal truth.
As late as the 1960's, most immigrants, excepting Latin Americans, came by boat - as did the first settlers on virgin American soil. Though methods of arrival have changed with the years, the image of new settlers crossing by boat remains a prominent one in the idea of immigration.
Our intent here, however, is not to tell the old story, the one that is so familiar to 100 years of American History students. The old story is of Ellis Island; of oppressed and exploited peoples enduring the hardships of the crossing to arrive in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty; of a life of freedom, toil, and tenement poverty. This year we seek to explore a newer story, one that is too recent and diverse to be well chronicled in our textbook.
Irvine, like many communities throughout the United States, has a constantly evolving ethnic mix; however, these people tend to be concentrated in certain areas. Out of the 110 students currently enrolled in A.P.U.S. History class, 76% are of non-European ancestry, with the majority of these hailing from Asia. Most of these students are first or second generation and thus know an adult who experienced the process of immigration in their home or nearby, so the idea of creating a book devoted to the stories of the most current wave of immigrants sounded too good to pass up. The project not only created a portrait of modern immigration, it provided an opportunity for many of our students to have a hands-on experience in the passing on of oral - rather than written - history. For families long unaware of the cultural riches lying unplumbed within their elders, the experience also provided a valuable resource in maintaining and passing on the family tradition and history.
Every student conducted and digitally recorded a "whole life" interview that was at least two hours in length. They then transcribed the entire interview word-for-word and wrote a narrative of their subject's immigration experience from the transcribed interview. To create some continuity among the papers, each had to describe common phases of the immigrant experience; 1) life in the old country, 2) reasons for immigration, 3) the journey, 4) first impressions of America, and 5) adjustment to American society. Students who did not have relatives to interview had the opportunity to read and critique a contemporary historical work on modern immigration. Their papers give a broader look at the issues of the time which motivated so many to make the journey to America.
The final product in its paper and digital form is a tribute to our student interviewers and authors, and to the discipline and dedication of our student editors.
Whether it was 517 years ago or last summer, the American story is the story of immigration. It is important to remember that at one time or another all of us were "fresh off the boat."
June 8, 2009