Before reading this article with students, repeat the classroom exercise reported in the 1920 issue of The New Republic: Ask students to write definitions of the word “alien.” Have students read these to partners and ask for a few students to share them aloud with the whole class.
- Nunberg writes, “Whatever its legal meaning, when it comes to the crunch, alien means ‘brown people who snuck in.'” What evidence does Nunberg use to support this statement? Do you agree?
- Nunberg says that “illegal immigrant” has come to replace “alien” in the media. What are some of the problems with the expression “illegal immigrant”? Does “illegal immigrant” also mean “brown people who snuck in”?
- Nunberg says that the language of immigration over the last hundred years has missed the “human side of the story.” How could our language about immigration change in order to emphasize the human side of the story? How could life in our classrooms and schools change in a way that makes sure we don’t forget the human dimension of immigration?
- Write about a time when you felt like an alien, when you didn’t fit in, or when you felt wrongly lumped in with a group, or “mis-labeled.” What caused you to feel that way? Or write about a time when your humanity or individuality was not recognized — when you were classified and treated poorly because of your race, your age, your social class, your immigration status, or the way you dress.
- Nunberg says anti-immigrant sentiment “reached its peak in the Red scares of the years after World War I.” But the idea of a “peak” is relative to different communities. Ask students to research other anti-immigrant “peaks” in U.S. history such as the anti-Chinese legislation, riots, lynchings/massacres of the late 1800s; the anti-Mexican “Zoot Suit Riots” that took place in California in 1942; or Japanese and Japanese-American internment during World War II.