Crossing Borders: Building Relationships Across Lines of Difference
Publication date – August 2007
Developed by – the Center for Community Change, Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), and CASA de Maryland


Aims, objectives, and intended audience

While the phrase Crossing Borders provokes immigration imagery, the focus of this curriculum extends well beyond discussions of geographic boundaries to tackling the many “borders” that can separate us from one another, notably race, ethnicity, language, class, power, and economics, among others. Crossing Borders guides participants through in-depth conversations about the demographic changes impacting communities and the underlying power dynamics that prevent people from developing meaningful relationships across lines of difference. In the spirit of “crossing borders,” this curriculum also addresses coalition building, emphasizing how alliances comprised of diverse populations can advance their common interests. Crossing Borders is written with organizers and leaders in mind, particularly those who seek to build relationships between African Americans and immigrants.

Broad structure and key educational methods

This curriculum is divided into four modules of 90-120 minutes each. They may be used as a series of stand-alone workshops or combined for a daylong event. Key educational tools within the curriculum include a historical timeline of African American and immigrant history, a job ladder analogy that highlights how various groups have ascended job sector ranks over time, and numerous opportunities for small group reflection and sharing.

Key topics or themes by module

1. Demographic Shifts among African Americans and Immigrants

The first module explores how communities are changing due to immigration and internal migrations. The material covers how many previously monolithic communities are becoming increasingly mixed race and mixed ethnic. Participants discuss their experiences with these changes and the extent to which they perceive intergroup cooperation in their own communities.

2. History of Domination and Pursuit of Work and Opportunity

In this second module a historical timeline is used to illustrate how African American and immigrant mobility has long been driven by the twin engines of domination and pursuit of work and opportunity. Participants are asked to place their family’s migration story into the timeline and explain whether their migration(s) were influenced by domination and/or the pursuit of work and opportunity. An underlying theme of the module is power, particularly the difference between having power over someone or a group of people versus power with someone or a group.

3. Five Dimensions of the African American and Immigrant Tension

The third module explores the challenges that impede coalition building, remarking that “to successfully transform the societal structures that oppress us, we need to address the tensions that divide us” (page 17). The five topics addressed are: (1) Culture and language barriers leading to an inability to relate; (2) Stereotype and bias; (3) Economics and resources, as referenced in the oft-heard refrain “they’re taking our jobs”; (4) Power and recognition – competing over “pieces” of the proverbial “pie”; and (5) Race and how the U.S. racial system affects intergroup dynamics. Discussion centers on participants sharing their experiences as both victims and perpetrators of racial bias followed by a brainstorm on healing processes.

4. Jobs, Race, and Immigration

This final module highlights shifts in the labor sector, such as the overabundance of unskilled workers due to the increased demand for skilled labor, that have increased strains between African Americans and immigrants. Material on immigration as it relates to jobs follows, noting push-pull factors in the labor market and labor and trade policies. An analogy involving a broken “jobs ladder” is used to explain employment circumstances and serves as a catalyst for discussions on how to collaboratively repair this ladder.

The curriculum closes by providing additional resources. These include a five step process for moving from dialogue to action, guidance on how to do one-on-one relational meetings, suggestions on how to run a successful group meeting, and a reading/resource list on African American – immigrant relationships.

Curriculum acquisition information

Center for Community Change
1536 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 339-9300
Fax: (202) 387-4891