Curriculum Spotlight: 7th Grade American Dream Life Story Interviews

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Curriculum Spotlight

American Dream Life Story Interviews

Research shows that sharing your ancestors' stories – those of success and more importantly of struggles – forges more resilient children. During the 7th grade English American Dream unit, students reach out to an older family member or family friend, collect background information, craft open-ended questions in different categories (childhood, career, interests, etc.), and conduct a one-hour life story interview. Using notes from the interview, students then write short biographies of their subjects. To build interviewing skills, we start by studying the techniques used on "60 Minutes," viewing the profiles of Misty Copeland, Shahid Khan, Sonia Sotomayor, and others. Students are then placed in small teams that plan and conduct an interview of a staff member on campus. This year's participants included Trisha Cahill, Toni Brand, Isaac Jacobs-Gomes, Andrew Davis and others. At the end of the unit, students reflect on the American Dream stories they encountered – including written narratives of undocumented immigrants – and write an argumentative essay that answers the question, "The American Dream: Myth or Reality?"

One of our MTS 7th graders, Julia Ulvestad, interviewed her grandmother, Maria Rosaura de Montagut Estragués, who immigrated from Spain as a young woman in pursuit of a career as a translator. Julia reflects on the American Dream Family interview project and includes an excerpt of the interview with her grandmother below. 

Family Interview

by Julia Ulvestad

The “American Dream” interview project did not only intrigue me about my grandmother's past and present life, it also gave me knowledge on how to be a great interviewer. Hopefully, one day this knowledge will be convenient. For this project I began by choosing a close family member (preferably retired) who inspired me, and who had achieved the “American Dream.” Straight away, I thought of my grandmother. Maria Rosaura de Montagut Estragués, who immigrated from Spain as a young woman in pursuit of a career as a translator. Her story is not only interesting because she fell in love with the man with whom she has been married for over fifty years, but also because she worked hard as a translator and lives a very compassionate life. I knew my grandmother would be an incredibly interesting interviewee, and I am so glad I chose her.

To begin, I had the interview subject fill out a form including information and details from different sections of her life, including: childhood and family history, education, career, marriage and children, culture and beliefs, and her view on the “American Dream.” Once I collected this information, I made a list of questions in different categories. Then came the best part, conducting the interview! Fortunately, I was able to interview her in person because she happened to be in town.

During this interview, I learned about how being a translator can be a really difficult career, especially when delivering devastating news. For example, when my grandmother worked in the University of California in Irvine (UCI) medical department, she had to deliver news to a Spanish speaking family that their child had leukemia. This was one of the hardest career experiences that Rosaura encountered. Luckily, my grandmother also had many jobs as a translator that she enjoyed, such as helping kids in a local elementary school and translating for the Barcelona Film Festival. Now my grandmother lives in Laguna Beach with my grandfather. She enjoys gardening and spending time with her two children, five grandchildren, and staying connected with the family in Spain. I am very inspired by the way my grandmother approached her life, and I hope one day to be as influential as her. 

Julia's family in Spain (in 2019) in front of her great grandmother's old hotel

Selected Interview Question and Answers:

Q: Tell me about the conflicts of living in a crowded apartment." 

                  A: “It was not a conflict, but of course when you have to share one bathroom with 9 people, it’s not as comfortable as living in a big spacious house.

Q: “What did you enjoy about being a translator?”

                  A: “I enjoyed being useful to the people that needed information, since they couldn’t get it. Sometimes it was simultaneous translation and sometimes it was written translation, but either way it was always helpful to others.”

Q:   “What was different about growing up in Spain than living in the U.S?”

                A: “I would say the family connection in Spain is stronger since I lived with all of my family in an apartment for a lot of my childhood.”

Julia's grandmother as a young girl

Q: “Do you think you got lucky to have immigrated so easily, or was it all hard work?”

                 A: “ In my case I think it was a lot of luck, it was being at the right place, at the right time.”

Q: “Did you ever want to give up when you migrated to America?”

                 A: “ I did want to give up sometimes. I was offered a long term job as a translator, but I did not know if I wanted to spend the rest of my career in America. Luckily, my boss and I made a contract for 6 months.”


Julia's grandparents married over 50 years!

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