Bilingual Survivor Story Comics
My students are recent immigrants. They come from Bangladesh, Haiti, Tibet, Guinea, Ecuador, Yemen and dozens of other countries. They tend to full of hope and belief in themselves and in this country.
I thought I had a good handle on the situation. People come here for opportunity, right? To pursue wealth, to own a home with a garage and a Cadillac? The chance to send their kids to college to become doctors, dentists or pharmacists?
What I learned from this project is that most people don’t leave their homes to pursue a vague and distant dream. They leave their homes in order to survive, or to escape blatant human rights violations.
I've done this project four times, four different ways. It always begins with reading Maus, by Art Spiegelman. Maus is a non-fiction comic about a man from Queens interviewing his father about surviving the Nazi occupation of Poland. Students remember this book more than any other we read together. We also read excerpts from Palestine, by Joe Sacco, and Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.
When we’ve finished reading Maus, students interview a family member, or someone else from their native country, about surviving a difficult time. Students conduct their interviews via email, text message, face-to-face or by any other means necessary to connect with someone who may be on the other side of the world. As in Maus and Palestine, the interview becomes part of the story. They then create a story board, drawing design inspiration from the authors we have read, or any other comic artist they admire.
After the final images are drawn, we use a program called Comic Life to add text and make a final, clean draft. In most cases I require students to create two versions: one in English, and one in their native language. As a school we believe deeply acknowledging the value of, and continuing the use of native language. This project is a seamless fit with this value.
I have completed this project on my own, as well as with collaboration with Dara Ross (English and Media Arts) and Ann McCormack (Theatre Arts). I always jump at the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers. It always adds depth to a project and hastens student acquisition of academic language and concepts. Ann and I will be completing another version of this project in the Spring of 2015, with students reading Ann Frank's, "Diary of a Young Girl." We will also add a film component.