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The Melting Pot and Americanism

Page history last edited by Stacy Takacs 11 years, 10 months ago

The Melting Pot and Americanism


      It is very interesting that America is known as the “melting pot’ yet in recent years immigration has been an issue of contention in both political and cultural arena. A substantial number of Americans claim that immigrants are destroying or diluting the American values and national identity. Some even harbor hatred for immigrants and advocate that all immigrants be returned to their countries of origin. This leads one to wonder; what is the American national identity if not what it has been known to be for decades. One wonders further, with the exception of Native-Americans, aren’t all Americans are immigrants since their ancestors migrated from the all parts of the world over a century ago? If all the immigrants were to leave America then who would be left? A century ago, America was the land of immigrants and she still is today.  Her cultural diversity is the envy of the world over. Her peace and prosperity would not be if the immigrants who discovered her, labored for her and raised her had not left Europe, Asia, Africa and parts of the world to settle in the land now known as the United states of America. Denying the positive contributions immigrants have made to America since her conception is what would destroy the American values and national identity.  These xenophobic sentiments are not new; they existed over a century ago. However, it is sad to learn that they still exist in the 21st century.


What is the American melting pot? 



  Melting Pot Stirred by Liberty.

Source: http://chnm.gmu.edu/exploring/images/stir.jpg



     The term “melting pot” refers to the blending of different cultures, ethnicities and nationalities into one that is representative of all. The term has been used in reference to the assimilation of the cultures of the late arriving immigrants to America into that of the earlier arrivals. Although assimilation efforts existed long before, the common usage of the term “melting pot” came after the premiere of the play The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill in 1908. It is about the life of the Quixanos, a Russian-Jewish immigrant family. After surviving a pogrom, which killed his mother ad sister, Davis Quixano composes a symphony in an effort to erase the trauma from the pogrom (Answers.com). In his play, Zangwill claims that America is "God's crucible... that could melt up all the race differences and vendettas, that could purge and re-create" (Zangwill 179). In effect, he suggested that America was chosen by God to bring together people from different parts of the world and get them to forget their past and prejudices. It was time to burry the hatchet and unite under one nation.


Immigration History


      Immigration, the movement of people from one country to another, remains to be a subject of contention in the USA and other parts of the world. Immigrants have been coming to America since early 17th century. Back then the earlier arrivals into America were indifferent and hesitant about welcoming the new immigrants into the new found land. Today, in the 21st century there still exist some sentiments of xenophobia in America. Perhaps not the extent it was in the past but still significant enough to be addressed. 

     One day I was watching a reputable national news network with a friend of mine who was visiting me from England. The news caster reported that there was a man who claimed to have seen aliens in an unidentified flying object (UFO). Then a few minutes later, the same news caster reported on how some Americans feel that “aliens in America are taking away the American jobs and pulling the wages down.” My friends was shocked to hear that and asked: “Really? I thought aliens only existed in science fiction? ” You see, to most people outside America the word “alien” draws an image of the creatures the character of Will Smith chassed around in the movie Men in Black. My friend no idea that the second report on “aliens” was referring to immigrants and foreigners in the USA. In the 8 years I have been in America I am yet to find one foreigner who refers to him/herself as an “alien.”  The foreigners and/or immigrants in America detest that reference and it is appalling that in a world were people are obsessed with being politically correct this term is still used in reference to people without a second thought. It is disappointing that such a reputable national news network, that claims to be fair and unbiased, does not see anything wrong with using the same word to refer to certain people as that used to refer to creatures whose existence is questionable. Perhaps the answer is answer is burried in the history of immigration in the United States.


(Click here to view a summary of immigration history in the USA).



Why Immigrants come to America


          Immigrants have been coming to America for nearly 400 years yet the reasons for coming to America haven’t evolved much in that duration.  The early immigrants, mostly Europeans, came to be a part of the “new found land.”  Europe’s interest in this new found land followed from its discovery by Christopher Columbus. (Click here for more on Columbus. As Mei Ling Rein explains, they came following the new found land’s “promise of classless, democratic form of government” and also in search of “freedom to worship” (Rein 1). The freedom to worship and participate in religions other than Protestantism was a big plus for those who left Europe in an effort to break away from the conservative and strict Church of England. They came seeking this liberty and economic opportunities.


        The pursuit of better economic opportunities remains one major reason immigrants came and continue to come to America. With growth of the nation, came a need for labor so immigrants were brought in by the government to satisfy the demand for labor. The government setup special programs to encourage immigration for this purpose.  The Bracero History Archive has a collection of images, documents and oral histories of one such government program targeted at Mexicans between 1942 and 1964.


        There are also those who came to America as slaves and America’s participation in slavery remains a matter that s constantly thrown in America’s face decades after the abolition of slavery. Many injustices that occurred during the slavery period violated the values and basis on which the nation was founded. Slavery denied rights to the slaves when the American constitution emphasized on all people being created equal and having unalienable rights. Although America has made efforts to make up for its part in slavery, she remains tarnished from it and it still has many of its citizens feeling that it has not done enough. Click here to visit the United States National Slavery Museum.  

        Today in the 21st century, immigrants continue to flood to the USA and still the come searching for better economic opportunities, for freedom, liberty and democracy that this country promises to its citizens. While the world have evolved and progressed over the years, many countries remain under developed and lack basic resources. The people from these countries come to America in search of better leaving standards; sometimes, they come in search of basic human needs such as a home, food and clothing. Even some of the developed countries, with comparable resources to the USA, see many of their citizens come to America in search of liberty and peace. Not all the developed countries enjoy liberty, peace, democracy and freedom as much America does so Americas remains envied by those outside its borders.


Do the immigrants destroy the American fabric?


     So why do some feel that immigrants destroy the America fabric?  Michael Barone responds “sometime in this century, we are told… the United States will no longer be a majority-white country” (Barone 274).  It is human nature to resist change, especially change to something that one is unfamiliar with.


The census bureau projected that Hispanic population would double from 12.1% in 2001 to 24.3% in 2050 and 33.3% in 2100. On the other hand the non-hispanic white population to decline from 71% of total population in 2001 to 52.8% in 2050, then to 45.6% in 2100 (Rein 13-14). 



    The numbers are pretty alarming it is no surprise that the anti-foreigner sentiments have resurfaced in recent years; however, having these sentiments to the extent of blaming immigrants as responsible for the unfortunate incidences that America faces is something that doesn’t hold water. I do not agree with the arguments that immigrants are a threat to American security because even though some immigrants have been responsible for horrific crimes and terrorists acts, many immigrants are not a threat at all. Most of the present day immigrants are running away from the poor living conditions and/or overbearing governments in their countries of origin. Surely, these immigrants would not want to do anything to jeopardize the freedom and economic opportunities that America provides them. If anything they want to stay in this country as long as possible; therefore, it would not be in their best interest to cause trouble or bite the hand that feeds them.


 Arguments against and for the “melting pot”



Multiculturalist view


   Multiculturalists view favors immigrants retaining their cultures while emabracing the American culture. They do not agree with view that immigrants have to discard their cultures and completely adopt the American culture.  As Horace M. Kallen writes, “what is inalienable in the life of mankind is its intrinsic positive quality – its psychophysical inheritance. Men may change their clothes, their politics, their wives, their religions, their philosophies, to a greater or lesser extent: they cannot change their grandfathers. Jews or Poles or Anglo-Saxons, would have to cease to be.” I agree with kallen because expecting immigrants to drop everything they have believed in and known for most of life and completely assimilate into the American ways takes away their identity. They are no longer who they know themselves to be; so how can one without an identity appreciate the identity he expected to assimilate into? Not only is it not unfair, it also does not make any sense. While it makes sense  to be concerned because the immigrants have ways that don't always fit in with the American ways, Americans would have to trust that the "melting pot" produce a mixture that is suitable for all. The Melting pot" is a great idea as long as it represents the essence and beuaty of all its ingridients.


Assimilationist view


     The assimilationist view is that in order for the melting pot to work the new immigrants ought to let go of their foreign cultures and practices and adopt those of America. This seems to set a condition for admission into the American ideal which I find to beat the purpose because if the purpose is to have orange diversity from mixing red and yellow paint then it does not make sense set a say that the yellow has to absorb the red characteristics before it can be mixed with the red. If that were the case, then you end mixing red with red and claim that your result as orange.


How do Americans view their national identity?


    A study by Deborah J. Schildkraut from Tufts University examined "whether the increasing ethinic diversity of the United States is changing how the normative content of American identity it defined" (597). She studied factors such as race/ethnicity, nativity, ancestry and ability to speak English and how important they are to the American identity. Her conclusion of the study is that she find little evidence to support the fear that is threatening the common understanding of the American national identity. This conclusion then supports my argument that immigrants are not threat to American identinty; they are part of the American identity.


Can America embrace immigrants and still preserve her identity?


     This not the first time America has seen people, customs, and cultures that are different from her own. Throughout history America has welcomed Italians, Asians, Africans and Hispanics, and others; they were hesitant at first but with time all those differences melted into one chacteristic that makes them all Americans. It worked in the past and can work again. As Barone explains, all that is needed is for Americans "to discard the notion that we are at a totally new place in America History, that we are about to change from a white-bread nation into a collection of peoples of color" (Barone 279). If America is changing at all it because she is now being forced to look in the mirror and embrace where she is coming from. While mmigrants may have brought to the surface things she had tucked away or they may have magnified her pimples, immigrants have not caused any of it. The economy, unemployement, terrorist crimes, multiculturalism and all other problems blamed on immigrants existed before and would still exist if all immigrants were to live America. If America does not recognize herself in the mirror it is because she denying who she is. America is the land of immigrants and the sooner America embraces that the sooner her fears of her identity being lost will be put to rest. As Barone concludes, "in many ways it is already happening and rapidily. And can happen more rapidily if all of us realize that interweaving is part of te basic chacter of our country" (Barone, 279).



Work Cited



Barone, Michael. The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again.  Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2001.


Kallen, Horace. Democracy Versus The Melting-Pot:A Study of American Nationality. <http://www.expo98.msu.edu/people/Kallen.htm>


Rein, Mei Ling. The Information Series on Current Topics. Immigration and Illegal Aliens: Blessing or Burden? Detroit: Gale Group, 2002.

Schildkraut, Deborah J. "Defining American Identity in the Twenty-First Century: How Much “There” is There?." Journal of Politics 69.3      (Aug. 2007): 597-615.






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