Curated by Will Coley of Aquifer Media
Will Coley, curator of this collection of podcasts, is an independent radio producer and social media strategist who’s worked for immigrant and refugee assistance organizations in the US, UK, and Zimbabwe. Immigration is often the subject of his digital storytelling as well as in his reporting for radio and podcasts. Originally from North Carolina, Will now lives in Queens, NY, the most linguistically diverse place on the planet. His 2017 podcast series “Indefensible” prompted this collection of immigration and migration shows.
On December 18th, the United Nations recognizes International Migrants Day to draw attention to the more than 244 million migrants around the world. That’s a lot of stories about what it’s like to leave the only home you know, journey along unfamiliar and sometimes dangerous routes, and start over in a new culture. I’ve always been fascinated by these stories. It’s what drew me to work for refugee assistance organizations for many years. And as a radio producer, I’m excited by the unique qualities of audio: how its intimacy can create greater empathy for migrants and appreciation of the challenges they face. Like me, you probably think the world could do with a little more understanding of others these days.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled this list of compelling podcast shows or series that focus almost exclusively on the stories of immigrants and refugees. Check them out and share them with others this International Migrants Day.
A New Normal — Audio Diaries of Syrian Refugees in Europe
Think Radio Diaries by Syrian refugees and you’ll get a sense of “A New Normal.” This five-episode series features the audio diaries of Syrians in the UK, Germany, Sweden, and Turkey. It’s an intimate first-person glimpse inside their lives as they seek safety and rebuild their lives.
Producer Misha Euceph was a middle school student in Pakistan when her family unexpectedly moved California. She missed out on learning some things that are crucial for most American children, so she’s recording her attempts to learn them now.
Butterfly Story Collective Podcast
A network of local immigrant storytelling projects recently joined together to form the Butterfly Story Collective. The Collective is guided by the principle of ethical storytelling: putting the person who lived through a particular experience in control of how their story is told. The show’s name could be both an homage to The Moth Radio Hour as well as the mighty Monarch butterfly that has migrated thousands of miles for centuries, well before national borders even existed.
Feet in Two Worlds
When I was asking for others’ input when compiling this list, this review from listener Nelly Medina stood out:
“Feet in 2 Worlds became my classroom; it opened the doors to many more cultural backgrounds that reside all over New York City. People of all ages and background share their stories of their cultural identity, family rituals, migration experiences, and how they continue preserving that in America. It also covers personal stories of those currently being affected by the immigration reforms implemented by our current presidential administration. Overall, Feet in 2 Worlds is my favorite podcast because it is the Epcot of New York City; it brings the world to my eyes and ears.”
I produced this series over the summer about people in the U.S. who are resisting deportation. In collaboration with the Immigrant Defense Project, I connected with five individuals whose lives were changed from interacting with the American criminal justice system and as a result now face permanent exile because of the draconian immigration system in the U.S. They say that they’re here to stay.
Jungala Radio broadcast from an unofficial refugee camp in Calais, France that the mainstream media dubbed “The Jungle.” The radio project was started by Irish graduate students Kathy O’Hare and Ciaran Henry to support refugees in challenging dominant narratives and attitudes by producing their own stories. In fact, Afghan producer Jamil won an “audio Oscar” at the 2016 Third Coast Festival/Richard H Driehaus Radio Awards. The project continues even though the camp was cleared and destroyed by the French government. The Jungala Team are currently working on a Digital Collaboration Project in 2018 that spans migrant and refugee experiences in five countries.
Maeve in America: Immigration IRL
Comedian maeve higgins has her own quirky take on the immigrant experience in the United States. She talks to Syrian refugees, immigrant artists, an aquaponics farmer, and a gay military translator. In one episode, she retraces the path of the first immigrant through Ellis Island. She also does some match-making along the way.
New American Songbook from The GroundTruth Project
I n this podcast series, Boston-based producers Ian Coss and Heidi Shin take a look at how music can help us understand the lives of today’s immigrants and what their contributions are adding to American culture.
This year Ken Burns brought his epic documentary about the Vietnam War to television. But Seattle-based producer Thanh Tan is exploring the aftermath of the war through the stories of Vietnamese refugees who came to the U.S. Tan mines the Vietnamese-American experience through beauty pageants, flags, spies, and pho.
Producer Matt Horton wants to show how relationships are shaped by immigration law in the United States. In each episode two people discuss the challenges they’ve faced in the fickle immigration system in the U.S. that can “either distance us from one another further or bring us closer together.”
This podcast from Behind the Wire and The Wheeler Centre transports you directly inside the Australian immigration detention centre on Manus Island, before it was closed this year. Constructed from over 3,500 WhatsApp messages, it’s about a Sudanese man’s never-ending search for safety. The show won multiple awards at the 2017 International Radio Program awards.
What’s Happening Here
Season one of this engaging podcast takes place at Manhattan International High School, in the classroom of Ms. Susan and Ms. Cinzia. Host Katie Shepherd introduces us to students from several countries as they work on personal essays that they’ll share as a speech to the entire student body at the end of the semester.
These two podcasts look at the experience of the children of immigrants or people who came to the U.S. as children. The hosts want to understand how growing up in the U.S. has shaped their identity and changed this nation as the same time.
The Mash-Up Americans
I also want to give a special shout out to Global Nation, the immigration desk of PRI’s The World. Although it’s not a distinct podcast, Global Nation is a recurring segment on the show. The team leads conversations on Twitter with the hashtag #globalnation as well as in a Facebook discussion group, the Global Nation Exchange.
Obviously this is just the start of a much longer list. Which of these shows have you listened to? What shows have I missed? Leave a comment below.
P.S. If you’re in New York City in December 2017, stop by UNICEF for IOM – UN Migration’s multimedia gallery show about the migrant experience. (And be sure to check out IOM UN’s podcast Together as well.)
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