Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education
SPICE Publications


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Introduction to Diasporas in the United States

Full Unit

Published
2002 (163 pages)

For Secondary - Community College students.

Softcover - $39.95
includes Curriculum Guide


The process of globalization is transforming the world into a tight network of increasingly integrated and interdependent economies and societies. Today's highly mobile labor force, faster means of transportation, efficient communication systems, and the dissemination of popular culture have all accelerated the movement of people and creation of diasporas. Equally, wars and disputes around the world have resulted in a flood of refugees and forced migrations from war-torn areas to neighboring countries and the industrialized states.

The implications of international migration and the creation of diasporas are far-reaching and complex. Diasporas have added new commercial dimensions to their host countries, introduced cultural transformations, and influenced domestic and foreign policy. They also continue to shape their homelands, either upon their return or from abroad. They maintain ties with their homeland in a number of ways including financially supporting the economy with their earnings sent from abroad, implementing skills and education acquired abroad, and supporting political causes from abroad.

The growing strength and presence of diasporas in pluralistic societies force us to rethink and perhaps ultimately redefine classical notions of the nation-state. Once founded on principles of cultural and political unity, the modern immigration-state now includes peoples of diverse ethnic and cultural origins, complicating definitions of national identity. National identity can become a serious issue when situations and conflicts call into question the loyalty of a country's immigrants and diasporic communities. For people whose allegiance might lie somewhere between their homeland and adopted or host country, the potential for misunderstanding could be great.

It is important to understand that this curriculum is not about American immigration history, and that diasporas are not synonymous with immigrants. The differences between diasporas and immigrants are subtle and oftentimes confusing. As a result, immigrants and diasporas frequently occupy an ambivalent position in the American mindset. The need to explore them in greater depth is paramount to avoiding potential misunderstandings and problems.

It is within this context that An Introduction to Diasporas in the United States presents the topic of diasporas to students. The curriculum unit is organized into two lessons.

The Introductory Lesson helps set the context for further study about diasporas. Through a series of class, group, and individual activities, students learn the historical and contemporary definitions of a diaspora, identify modern diasporas in their own society, discuss the influence of the media on the public perception of diasporas, and assess their own perceptions and knowledge of the five diasporas that will be covered in the Main Lesson.

The Main Lesson contains five case studies of diasporas in the United States: Armenian, Chinese, Cuban, Irish, and Yoruban. Each case study consists of a content handout, four to six accompanying individual and small-group activities, and primary and secondary source materials such as personal letters, drawings, political cartoons, posters, songs, poetry, literature, statistics, and personal stories. Each set of handouts and activities introduces students to specific diasporas in the United States, and examines their histories, roles, and contributions to the United States and their respective homelands. Culminating activities include a Museum Walk of student-created special exhibits on the diasporas they studied, as well as a creative writing assignment in which students write press releases about the museum exhibits.

Unit Goals

Both lessons in this curriculum have specific learning objectives listed. The following are larger goals for the curriculum unit as a whole. Students will:

  • learn about and appreciate the value of diversity and the ways that diasporas have changed U.S. society, politics, and economy;
  • learn about migration in a global context; and
  • study about different cultures.