By Rosie Kean

Anthropology professor Dr. Judith Freidenberg is aiming to change the perception of immigration in Prince George’s County with her book Contemporary Conversations on Immigration in the United States: the View from Prince George’s County, MD.

Freidenberg discussed her book on the 6th floor of McKeldin Library on Oct. 18 at 3:30 p.m.

The discussion was part of a University Libraries series: Speaking of Books… Conversations with Campus Authors, which showcases the research and writing of professors at this university. The Center for Global Migration Studies co-sponsored the event.

Freidenberg’s research was based on a sample group of 70 immigrant residents of Prince George’s county who represent the immigrant demographic of the county. According to the 2014 census, 20 percent of the county’s population are immigrants.

Freidenberg’s book, published in May 2016, presents immigration as a social issue rather than a social problem.

Treating immigration as a social problem means society blames immigrants for other problems like unemployment. Society will look for solutions that will eradicate the problem, which in this case is immigrants, Freidenberg said.

Viewing it as a social issue instead focuses on “what is affecting all of us rather than using the immigrant as a scapegoat,” Freidenberg said. America’s government, education and health care systems are failing immigrants, in addition to the rest of society.

In today’s political environment, immigration is a relevant topic to discuss.

“With this election coming up, there are a lot of opinions about immigration, but there are some negative views of immigrants that should be changed,” said Aleah McWilliams, a freshman computer science major.

Junior anthropology major Brianna Aaron believes society should view immigrants more positively and that empathy is key to achieving this change.

“We need to remember most of [our families] were immigrants,” Aaron said “How would we want to be treated?”

“If we are truly a nation of immigrants, the way we frame immigration is the way we tell the story of the United States,” Freidenberg said, pointing out the United States is a nation that was built by immigrants.

In her presentation, Freidenberg showed interviews with three immigrant residents of Prince George’s County. They talked about their experiences with leaving their home country, arriving in the United States and adapting to life in the United States.  

All three cited opportunity as a reason for wanting to come to the U.S. Betty Ann, who emigrated from Trinidad in 1980, said the opportunity to come to America was “the highlight of [her] life.”

They talked about the challenges they faced, including finding work and not having time to spend with their children due to working long hours.

Prior to her book, Freidenberg created a mobile exhibit titled “The Immigrant Experience In Prince George’s County,” which has been shown at several events, such as Maryland Day, over the past few years since the exhibit’s creation in 2010.

Freidenberg said she is trying to reach as many people as possible with her research. She encouraged the audience to show videos she presented to others to spread awareness of immigration and diversity in Prince George’s County.

There is an overall lack of awareness of immigrants in the county, Freidenberg said. She described the reaction of a young Chinese girl to her exhibit during Maryland Day in 2013: “Wow, I had no idea … so many foreign-born and I am one of them,” the girl said.

“When people attend events and ask questions, they reflect upon these issues,” Freidenberg said.

Freidenberg will also be speaking about her research to the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation staff.

Marie-Edith Michel, administrative manager of the department of parks and recreation, said, “Every October, we try to provide some celebratory or learning experience that speaks to the Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Michel also said it would be helpful for the staff to understand what the immigrant experience is like in Prince George’s County.

“This community still has a lot of work to do in terms of bridging across cultures,” Michel said.

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Xing Yishi on Flickr.

Rosie Kean is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at vrosekean@gmail.com

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