Feb. 6, 2019 — “In ‘The New American,’ we’re going to take a journey back in time,” actor Rachel McClinton told eighth-graders at Siuslaw Middle School yesterday. “It’s going to focus on the experience of one immigrant from Ireland. She’s going to make the journey to America.”
McClinton, an actor and writer for Living Voices, based in Seattle, Wash., described the experience “as live theater and a movie squished together.” She is one of 30 actors who travel all over the U.S. “bringing life to history” through personal stories of immigrants, suffragists, explorers and more who make up the rich fabric of history.
This is the fifth year she has been to Siuslaw through a partnership with teacher Heather Wiggins, Florence Elks Lodge #1858 and SEAcoast Entertainment Association as part of the eighth-grade curriculum.
SEAcoast representative Rachel Pearson said, “You might say, ‘Big deal! What does that have to do with us in 2019?’ Well, there are immigrants coming all the time to our country. It’s a huge issue, as you might know from listening to the radio, turning on the TV or reading Buzzfeed. Immigration has always been a part of our country. It’s why we have so much diversity.”
Before her performance, McClinton gave some background on Ellis Island in New York and Angel Island in California between the 1880s and 1920s, when more than 27 million people came to the U.S. in “The Great Wave”
“The was known as the largest voluntary migration of people in human history — and they were coming to America to start a new life,” she said.
Students later got to experience their own Ellis Island as approximately 95 eighth-graders traveled steerage-style into the middle school commons. They each wore name badges and carried papers which would ultimately prove their welcome to America — or watch them return home.
According to Wiggins, students created their character sheets by rolling dice, similar to Dungeons and Dragons. She said normal numbers should show 80 percent of students being eligible for citizenship, but that this year’s group rolled low and she wasn’t sure how many would be able to get in.
Students were able to appeal, however, which could allow more to get approval and take the oath of loyalty in front of the American flag.
“Instead of thinking of the past, I want you to consider the future,” McClinton said. “When you are all grown up — I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime — any one of you may have the chance to get into a spaceship and travel to another planet that sustains life. If you chose to do that, you’d most likely be leaving planet earth behind forever. You would leave behind what is familiar, maybe friends and family. If you went on that journey, I guarantee it would be a long time and you would be crossing great distances. That’s what it felt like for immigrants when they crossed the ocean. They felt like they were traveling into deep space. … Their new world is America.”
For more information on Living Voices and its programs, visit www.livingvoices.org.