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Seeing (Im)Migration Through Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series: A North American and Universal Expereince

May 2, 2017

Picture this: Sixty panel – size paintings depicting the ongoing journey of people leaving not only oppression at home, but famine, other economic difficulties as well. The caption on the last panel simply states “And the migrants kept coming.” Would this be a series reflecting the experience of Syrian and other refugees today? Yes and no. While Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series told the bittersweet story of the Great Migration of African Americans from the U.S. South to better opportunities in the industrial North, the  artist was very clear that his series was a universal one. Then and now Canada has been a destination country.

On Saturday, March 4, 2017, twenty- four participants came to Paulette Thompson’s session on how to use the Migration Series as a resource to provide our students with not only a lens on the past but also one that concerns present day socio-cultural and political struggles. In order to discuss push and pull factors along with past and contemporary migration and immigration, participants examined the paintings using art education techniques. Poetry by Langston Hughes and music concerning the immigration and immigration of peoples of Japanese and Caribbean descent among others were presented and discussed in order to assist in comparing and contrasting racial, class, and gendered experiences in North America. Participants continued talking even after the session was over.

Who says that delving into such a multidimensional and serious topic had to be boring? The evaluations of the session all attest to the fact that “a good learning time was had by all”!