National Dialogues on Immigration

Taking it to the Porch: Slow Dialogues on Immigration

While prototyping porch dialogues at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, facilitators created  this 'window of thoughts.'

This 2014, each of the participating sites in the National Dialogues on Immigration project will be contributing to our blog post series, “Immigration: Our Stories.” This post comes from Irina Zadov of Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting.
-Milan Kundera

For the last three years, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum has been facilitating dialogues which connect histories of migrant and immigrant experience at the turn of the twentieth century to contemporary narratives shared by our visitors. Our process begins with a 50 minute tour of the Hull-House, through which visitors explore the histories of Eastern and Central European immigrants as well as Mexican and African American migrants who came to Chicago from 1889 to 1963. The tour is followed by a 50 minute facilitated dialogue through which participants reflect on their own experiences of movement, cultural identity, and the values which shape their perspectives on immigration policy in the United States today.

While this structured experience has resulted in energetic, contentious, and even transformative dialogue, it has always felt a bit rushed. Just when a group of high school students from a small mining community in Northern Kentucky start to open up about post-industrial economics and the tensions between older residents and newcomers to their community, we find ourselves out of time. This summer we intend to slow down our dialogue process in order to practice what Ella Baker called radical thought: ”radical in its original meaning—getting down to and understanding the root cause.”

Our summer (Im)migration Chat series will be situated in a space known for leisurely and soulful activity – our porch. The Hull-House porch will be a nexus for all public programming this summer as part of our Innovation Lab for Museums Slow Museum Project. This initiative borrows from the Slow Food Movement and asserts that experiences rooted in radical hospitality, seasonal, local, organic, and playful moments might create a more sustainable and grassroots approach to social change than the traditional museological method.

Hull-House will not only activate its own porch, but will partner with porches across the city to host dialogues, initiate play, and build relationships with children, elders, and community members. Through these non-instrumental approaches to audience engagement Hull-House educators will facilitate dialogue on immigration over a glass of lemonade and some cookies, while braiding hair, or doing a crossword puzzle: the kind of dialogue which will decentralize the institution and privilege experience over academics. Through this non-traditional approach, we aim to engage in conversations that are at once easier and more challenging – conversations that get at the root of values and beliefs, be it familial, institutional, political, or otherwise. We aim to reframe the conversations about (im)migration with the goal of creating a sea-change of peaceful, engaged, and empathetic dialogue throughout our community.


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