Students interviewed immigrant workers and published their collective stories

Students from New York City High Schools interviewed and photographed immigrant workers in their neighbourhood to document their lives in a published book.

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – Sixty-seven students from three New York City public schools documented the lives of immigrant workers in their own neighbourhoods. The photographs and interviews were published in 2005 as a collection of narratives titled, “Forty Cent Tip: Stories of New York City Immigrant Workers”.

The students interviewed and photographed relatives and friends, who described the challenges and successes they experienced as day laborers, domestics, fledgling small-business owners and fast-food restaurant employees.

The idea quickly grew from a class project started under the guidance of Noreen Perlmutter and Andrew Turner, teachers at the International High School at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. Teachers and students from Brooklyn International and Manhattan International High Schools soon joined the initiative.

The three “international schools” are small public schools enrolling only recent immigrants, hence many of the student participants had only arrived in the United States a year or two earlier and were still learning English themselves.

Equipped with voice recorders and digital cameras, the students documented the lives of immigrant workers,many of whom were relatives or friends. With guidance from their teachers and mentors, the students developed their interviewing skills, formulated questions, learnt how to use their cameras, translated and transcribed their taped interviews from Spanish to English and turned them into narratives for publication. Specialist workshops were provided to support the students such as the photography session from a visiting artist at Elders Share the Arts, a community nonprofit initiative in Brooklyn.

While respecting the words of students and their subjects, their texts were edited for length and organization, as would happen for any adult author.

Kariela Almonte, a senior at Manhattan International High School provided insights into her experience as a student working on Forty-Cent Tip. Her account highlights the freedom and choices given to the students, who were in charge of the project, supported by the teachers and mentors with each step.

We often met as a group to share our interviews and experiences as interviewers. I learned a lot by reading my classmates’ interviews and sharing ideas with them. Our goal in this project was to get to know in depth immigrant workers and their experiences at work. We wanted to show stories that talked to people about the harsh working conditions of these immigrant workers in NYC. – Kariela Almonte

The project attracted a “Student Research for Action” grant from the nonprofit organisation, What Kids Can Do. The book was published by Next Generation Press, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In January 2006 the Queens Museum of Art exhibited the student photographs and texts for three weeks, before the exhibit travelled to various locations in the New York boroughs.

Forty-Cent Tip: Stories of New York Immigrant Workers is available at What Kids Can Do, Amazon and Barnes and Nobel.

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