GHOSTS OF THE RIVER
Study Guide Lesson 3
DVD Feature: Shadow Play
Chapter 3: The Monster of the Puente Negro
Immigration Themes: Why People Move, Economic Refugees, The Black Bridge, American Dream (Myth or Reality?)
General Themes: Stereotypes, Mythology vs. Truth, Demonizing the things we fear, folklore, fiction writing
Arts Expression: Educational Poster Campaign, Myth and Mythological Playwriting, Creative Writing, Digital Storytelling
Economic Refugee: A person whose economic prospects have been devastated and they leave their home country to escape poverty and in search of better job prospects and higher living standards. Many of these economic refugees tend to be immigrants from underdeveloped countries.
Forced Migration: Refers to the coerced movement of a person or persons away from their home or home region. It often suggests violent coercion such as slavery and human trafficking, and can also refer to those displaced by conflict or natural disaster.
Push and Pull Factors: Push factors usually drive migrants out of their countries of origin and pull factors generally are what draw migrants towards a more favorable life in another place. Both factors can be social, political or economic.
American Dream: A unitary definition does not exist–the American dream probably has a different meaning to everyone who lives in or moves to the United States. For some it is the dream of freedom and equality, for others it is the dream of a fulfilled life. In general, the American dream can be defined as being the equal opportunity and freedom for all citizens to achieve their goals without persecution. Many view the dream as upward mobility, i.e. anyone can make money in America if they put in the effort.
‘La Migra’: The Mexican term referring to officers of the U.S. Border Patrol who sought to arrest and deport illegal aliens. (farmworkermovement.com/essay/ufw-glossary/)
Stereotypes: An oversimplified, general idea, opinion or image of a particular person or group of people that allows others to categorize them and treat them accordingly
Myth: Mythology is a collection of traditional stories that express the beliefs or values of a group of people. Myths also try to explain the way the world is. The stories often focus on human qualities such as good and evil. The characters in myths usually include heroes, villains, gods and goddesses.
This lesson creates parallels with the characters’ experiences in ‘The Monster of the Puente Negro” through an exploration of what causes people to migrate, in particular when migration is forced due to economic need, and what stereotypes exist about immigrants in the US. It employs the creative tool of mythology to address the truth or fiction of the American Dream in today’s society.
● “The Monster of the Puente Negro” Video of Play
● “The Monster of the Puente Negro” Documentary Film Segment (optional)
● Whiteboard and markers
● Poster paper and markers, audio and video tools (depending on project chosen)
Ask students if they have ever lived somewhere else. Poll the group and record their results. To draw out and engage in where students have moved and why, ask the following questions and create a tally.
- How many have lived in more than one apartment? How many have lived in more than one neighborhood? Town? City? County? State Country? What were some of the reasons they relocated? Create a tally on the board that counts the number of times everyone in the class has moved and the places they have lived including neighborhoods, states, and countries.
Ask students to share any reasons why they have moved to their current home. Record their answers on another section of the board.
Then ask the class to think about some of the reasons why someone might want to move to their neighborhood, town, city or state. What reasons might push someone to move away from his or her neighborhood or city?
Ask students to think about a place they might want to move later in life. Why might they like to move there? Add these answers to the list.
Scan the list and ask students to find any reasons why people move that we might have missed. (Answers may include weather, jobs, income, natural resources, culture, schools, cost of housing, safety, family unification, etc.)
“The Monster of the Puente Negro”
After the film, refer to the definitions of Push and Pull Factors, showing the nature of forced migration, and as a group, choose some examples of push and pull factors from the student’s group list. Then see if students can also identify what the push or pull factors are for Beto in “The Monster of the Puente Negro”.
Share the definition of ‘Economic Refugee’ and reflect on the moment with the two refugees are talking on top of the train car. One of them shares that he plans to work, buy a house and raise a family when he arrives to the US. He asks Beto, “What are you going to do when you get there?” Beto replies, “Pues, live.”
Explain how when hunger and survival are at stake, and work is spare, people will risk enormous loss to find a way to ‘live’.
Remind students that in the story, the mythical monster is a Texas migration officer, but we realize that the myth is much greater than that at the end of the story upon hearing the following quote:
“So I run and run and run. Slip past the closing gates and the Monstruo taking a beating, who is, after all, really only a man. But we make myths of things we fear, like they make myths of us. And the biggest myth we share is the USA. Why else would we lose our limbs and our lives coming here? We’re making Mythology! ” - Beto, “El Puente Negro”
Review the definition of myths and ask students what they think the myth of the United States is that the character is referring to. Allow it to emerge that he is in part talking about the traditional definition of the American Dream. Share the definition of American Dream as well.
Have students work in small groups and invite them to discuss this quote and come up with their own answer to the question, “Is the American Dream a myth or a reality?”
As a class, share out small group responses to the question prompt and discuss. You may find students will acknowledge that some immigrant people truly believe in the American Dream, but that when a they arrive to the US a number of them may find it is easier to survive in some ways, and more difficult in others. This isn’t a ‘yes or no’ question. Engage in an open and layered discussion on the topic leaving students with the understanding that despite the mythology around this dream represented in ‘The Monster of Puente Negro”, for many economic refugees, crossing the border illegally is simply the only choice they may have for their, and often their family’s, survival.
Based on student interest, choose one of the following final projects to express the perspectives represented in the class, and to demonstrate learning:
- Speak up! Design an educational poster campaign about the American Dream and all of the complexities involved it in it, truth vs. fiction, from your perspective. Begin by crafting a slogan for your campaign and build out your poster plan from there.
- Write and perform a short mythological play inspired by the story “El Puente Negro”. Your myth should include characters that represent good and evil. Revisit the definition of myth.
- Write about your own American dreams and realities, and be as specific as possible. Use the following questions as guides for your writing: What do you hope your life will be like in 20 years? What achievements do you hope to reach? Professional or personal? What challenges might you face in pursuing these dreams? How can you address these challenges?
- If you know about your family history, create a family tree. Ask your parents and grandparents about when and why your family immigrated to the United States. Was it mainly “push” factors or “pull” factors? Illustrate your findings.
In Other News Today/ Additional Resources
Poll: 1 out of 3 Americans inaccurately think most Hispanics are undocumented
A Better Life: Creating the American Dream