Teaching the Immigrant Experience Through Theater

SJSU’s Matthew Spangler was the playwright for the San Jose Repertory Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company production of “The Kite Runner,” which featured, from left to right, Craig Piaget (Young Amir) and Lowell Abellon (Hassan) (photo by Kevin Berne).

San Jose State University has received a $162,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to host a summer institute for school teachers titled “The California Immigrant Experience through Literature and Theatre.”

The institute will be held July 13-27, 2014, at SJSU. Faculty members will include Maxine Hong Kingston (author of “The Woman Warrior”), Ping Chong (theater artist) and Luis Valdez, ’64 English (author of “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba”). See below for more.

Associate Professor of Performance and Communication Studies Matthew Spangler and Professor of Radio, TV, Film and Theatre Arts David Kahn will serve as hosts and co-directors for the institute.

This institute will explore some of the ways in which the immigrant experience to the United States, and California, in particular, has been represented through literary and theatrical texts,” Spangler said.

Activities will be organized around three topics that frequently appear in such texts: (1) the construction of political borders between geographic territories and social borders between groups of people; (2) intercultural conflict between settled and immigrant communities; (3) changing family and gender dynamics within discrete immigrant communities.

Participants will explore these topics as they pertain to emigration from Mexico, China and Afghanistan.

Theater workshop

Among the highlights of the institute is a three-day theater workshop with Ping Chong, an internationally renowned theater artist known for his work in intercultural and documentary theater. In this workshop, Ping Chong will guide participants through some of the steps involved in creating a documentary theater production based on the topic of immigration.

On Friday, July 25, participants will showcase the results of this workshop in a theater performance open to the public.

Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Hal Todd Theatre, SJSU
Cost: Free
For Reservations: call 408-924-1373 or email CAimmigrationinstitute@gmail.com


Institute participants will include 25 school teachers competitively selected from around the country. Eligibility: Full-time or part-time teachers in American K-12 schools, whether public, charter, independent, or religiously affiliated, as well as home-schooling parents, are eligible to apply to NEH Summer Institutes. Americans teaching abroad are also eligible if a majority of the students they teach are American citizens.

Librarians, school administrators and graduate students may also apply. The deadline is March 4, 2014.

For questions or to request additional information please contact Project Coordinator Maria Judnick (CAimmigrationinstitute@gmail.com) or Matthew Spangler (matthew.spangler@sjsu.edu, 650-714-3622) or visit the institute website.


Maxine Hong Kingston (author of “The Woman Warrior,” “China Men” and other novels; Professor Emeritus, UC Berkeley)

Ping Chong (internationally acclaimed theater director, playwright, video and installation artist; author of “East West Quartet” and creator of “Undesirable Elements” performance series)

Luis Valdez (author of “Zoot Suit,” “La Bamba”; founder of El Teatro Campesino)

Kinan Valdez (actor, director, and producing artistic director of El Teatro Campesino)

Donna Gabaccia (author of “Immigration and American Diversity,” among many other authored and edited books on the immigrant experience; Professor of History, University of Minnesota)

Kelly Lytle-Hernández (author of “Migra: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol,” among other articles and books on immigration from Mexico to the United States; Associate Professor of History, UCLA)

Judy Yung (author of “Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America,” among other articles and books on immigration from China to the United States; Professor of American Studies, UC Santa Cruz)

Sharon Ott, (theatre director and former artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Performing Arts Faculty Savannah College of Art and Design)

David Terry (a specialist on the performance of space and place; Assistant Professor of Communication and Performance Studies, San Jose State University)

Glen Gendzel (author of numerous articles on immigration; Associate Professor of History, San Jose State University)

Sara Zatz (Associate Director of Ping Chong & Company; program director of “Undesirable Elements” performance series)

Matthew Spangler (author of numerous articles and plays about transnational migration, including award-winning adaptations of Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and T.C. Boyle’s “The Tortilla Curtain”; Associate Professor of Performance Studies, San Jose State University)

David Kahn (a specialist in documentary theatre performance; Professor of Theatre Arts, San Jose State University)

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