Just a little walk in the city of New York or Chicago, for example, would make any foreigner realize the presence of people of various races walking down the street: probably Caucasians, blacks, Hispanics, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and so on. Or for another example, on school campuses in America, both the faculty and the student body are usually composed of people from a number of countries rather than only one. Almost anywhere in America, the possibility is encountering a mix of people. Thus, America is a land of plural races and ethnicities, with a multicultural context.
Indeed, the variety of ethnicities in America is often claimed to be the best mix in the world. Leonard Dinnerstein and David M. Reimers introduce their book, Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration and Assimilation, by stating, “Never before – and in no other country – have as many varied ethnic groups congregated and amalgamated as they have in the United States” (1). With such reputation, here is exactly where the famous term “melting pot” arises. This conception has traditionally been perceived as the best expression to describe the multi-ethnicity of America. Its basic idea presents the whole nation as one large pot. Anyone who enters the United States is automatically thrown into this “pot” where, for the following years, a process of assimilation into the American belief systems is taken place. All the cultural aspects that one brings into are blended together, or melted, to form a new culture. The outcome of this massive procedure is the “melted” version of a culture, which is described as characteristically “American.” It is notable that in this assimilation, the identities of each original culture are extinguished to bring out a complete new mixture.
Along with this perspective, however, there is another expression that describes the diversity of people in America. It tends to be interpreted in the same way as the “melting pot,” but actually has a slightly different meaning with a different way of approaching and explaining American society. In comparison with the “melting pot” theory, there is the “salad bowl” theory. This idea demonstrates a complete separate perspective that the newcomers bring different cultures, where each of these cultures is kept as an essential part to make up the whole. Every distinctive culture or belief is considered to be one of the tastes or ingredients that contributes in forming the whole; therefore its original shape and characteristics are maintained.
Whether to apply the term “melting pot” or the term “salad bowl” to the American multiethnic conditions brings about a large discussion and controversy. In a way, both serve as an effective and successful metaphor, despite their slight difference. Anyone who is accustomed to an extremely homogeneous society would be simply astonished after recognizing many faces with different physical features in America, and might praise the country by employing those two terms in topic. The ideas of the “melting pot” and the “salad bowl” in America both connote somewhat of an ideal to many people and are often admired. Having a close look at the reality of the country, such as the existing ethnic segregation, the fact of the white population fleeing away from the minority poverty, and the trend of the minority group forming an enclave, however, one can see that the “melting pot” theory is merely a myth, and despite its long fame, it is rather more suitable to label America as a “salad bowl.”
The Ethnic Diversity in America
In order to discuss the mix of people in America, it is necessary to reveal to what extent the nation is ethnically diverse.
As a country of immigration from its origin, America has been experiencing an influx of new people throughout its history. The first new settlers were English, followed by others such as Scotch-Irish, Germans, Scots, Irish, French, Dutch, Italians, Russians, Poles, Scandinavians, Greeks, Chinese, Japanese, Africans, and Latin Americans (Dinnerstein and Reimers 1). More recently in the 1990s, remarkable number of new arrivals has been recorded from Mexico, Philippines and Cuba (“Stirring”). Today, immigrants come primarily from Asia and Latin America whereas in the past, the majority of the immigrants were from Europe (Dinnerstein and Reimers xi). With the shift in the origins of the immigrants over a long period of history, America has been accepting a vast population of newcomers.
Thus, the number of newcomers tends to increase every year, expanding the diversity within the country. In this phenomenon, there is one notable feature. It is best described in Nathan Glazer’s statement in his article “American Diversity and the 2000 Census,” that “… the immigration of the first two decades of the twentieth century was much greater than the immigration of the last three decades, which has swelled the numbers of the new minorities” (12). This indicates clearly that the incoming people are particularly the minorities. And this trend of vast flow of minority immigrants into America cannot easily be pressed down as long as the American laws remain full of defects. Many examples of visa abuses and the existence of a market for counterfeit document are just the reality of America (Morhanthau 20-25). These apparently will continue to accelerate the increase of non-Americans, or the minority groups, within the country.
As mentioned above, America indeed accepts and embraces a great variety of people. However, where these newcomers settle in with what kinds of pattern is completely a different story, and this is where the important issue to be considered uncovers. It is one of the great tributes to revealing the anti-melting movement of the “melting pot,” consequently denying the “melting pot” theory.
For one thing, the incoming people do not spread out within the country. According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey done by the Center for Immigration Studies in the year 2000, most of the immigrants settle in just six states: California, absorbing 8.8 million people which is 30.9 percent of the whole immigrant population, New York with 12.8 percent, Florida with 9.8 percent, Texas with 8.6 percent, New Jersey with 4.3 percent, and Illinois with 4.1 percent. In fact, these six states occupy only 39.3 percent of the country’s total population, yet they account for 70.5 percent of the nation’s immigrant population (Camarota 2). Immigrants do not scatter equally across the country. It is apparent from these facts that America does not have a mix of people everywhere.
Another point is that even in cities that manifest its multiculturalism to the outside world, a severe reality of ethnic segregation submerges under the surface. As an example, Los Angeles and New York can be brought out. A fair image of those cities would be a large metropolitan area where a variety of people are immersed and live together. It is no exaggeration to say that these cities represent a miniature of “melting pot” or “salad bowl.” As opposed to these visions, however, many scholars and social scientists have done research on these cities and disclosed that within those cities, there is a complex set of human relationships including ethnic segregation.
According to a cultural geographer at California State University Northridge, James P. Allen, the city of Los Angeles may be seen as “a tremendously mixed society,” but “on the ground, racial homogeneity and segregation are common” (Booth, par. 37). This, in particular, refers to the number of separate neighborhoods existing according to ethnicity. A simple picture can be imagined: there is the black community there, here is an Asian neighborhood, and over there is a Hispanic community – like this, the city is a patchwork of tiny distinct pieces.
The sociologists, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, have done an extensive observation on the city of New York. There, they found exclusions, demarcations, and separations between different immigrant groups, such as the blacks, the Puerto Ricans, the Jews, the Italians, and the Irish. Each of these groups has shown a deep pattern of life that can only be explained within the context of their own ethnicities. New York, as a city, provides a cozy environment for any newcomers to stay on as “it recognizes them, and rewards them, and to that extent encourages them” (Glazer and Moynihan 310). Rather than embracing all the different groups of people and integrating them, the city allows the separation and nurtures them.
Sad as it seems, there are intricate sets of invisible lines drawn onto the land of America according to the race of people and dividing them apart.
Most American cities nowadays are suffering from a serious urban problem known as the urban sprawl. It is the movement of people outward to the suburbs, emptying the inner core of the city and leaving poverty there. There are many elements to this problem that accelerate the process, but even among those, there is an issue related to ethnicity as well.
One of the key factors to this problem is a wish of people to live away from poverty. Many American moderate-income people yearn to live in “an environment free from the signs of poverty,” believes Anthony Downs (Harrigan and Vogel 223). They hate to be put together in the same area and be perceived as poor as well. People with more money are able to move to a higher-income community where houses are expensive but are far away from poverty. The more people flee away with this reason, the more deterioration advances creating a concentration of poverty in the central city.
And behind this process hides a particular propensity in America. It is not a simple phenomenon of the rich running away from the poor. It involves an issue of ethnicity as it can also be explained as a tendency of the whites avoiding the minority. David Rusk illustrates how poverty is generated and its characteristics in his book Inside Game/Outside Game. He reveals that poverty is a more burden on the minority groups than it is to the white people in America. Moreover, to be poor and black or Hispanic, is usually associated with isolation from the mainstream society as in forms like ghettos (107). Also, housing assistance given by the local government clearly differs between the whites and the minority: housing assistance for poor blacks means offering a housing in a public housing project placed in a highly-concentrated poor neighborhood, whereas housing assistance for poor whites means giving a subsidized housing unit that can be privately owned in a lower-poverty suburbs (123). It is apparent from these facts shown by Rusk, that poverty in America characteristically lies on the minority groups, and that American government policies are practiced to clearly distinguish whites from the minority. Such society, consequently, contributes significantly to the attempt of white people evading poverty of the minority groups, in forms of somewhat like a game of tag. The overall picture is this: the rich white people not wanting to be perceived as the same as the poor minority groups and running away from them.
Case Study of New York Blacks: “Our Style”
As mentioned a couple of times above, with various reasons and backgrounds, the American society is not exactly a mixture of ethnic diversity, but a collection of groups of people. Between the different groups are the vague section lines that distinguish one from another. Tensions or conflicts rooting from a sense of “stranger” put the groups apart, forming neighborhoods with a homogenous structure. And it is within this each neighborhood the assimilation into the mainstream American society takes place.
Some scholars have defined assimilation as a process of going up the economic ladder from the bottom. Milton Singer, for example, states as follows:
… social mobility into a representation of “melting pot” and the “American dream” was based on his [Lloyd Warner] assumption that ethnic immigrants entered the system at its lowest levels when they arrived in this country and gradually climbed the ladder of social status as they moved into better neighborhoods, better schools, and better jobs. Upward social mobility thus became a tangible and quantitative index of acculturation, Americanization, and ethnic assimilation. The eventual outcome of this process of upward social mobility, Warner predicted, would be the “disappearance” of the “ethnics” into the mainstream of American life. (106-107)
This view of his agrees with the idea of Rusk who revealed the fact that at the bottom of the American social class system, there is the great mass of ethnic minorities. When they successfully escape from that status is the moment when they assimilate into the American society.
Blacks in New York City, however, flourished remarkably in a slightly different way with its own set of characteristics and procedures. According to Shane White, long time ago, blacks in the city were only a sizable minority completely separated from the whites. They were mostly slaves, working on plantation (23). In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, gradually, as a result of growth in black population and their obtainment of freedom, and the surrounding’s economic change, races in the city were brought together (White 24). During this process of being accepted from the dominant people, or acculturation, blacks created a significantly different culture from the whites. It was their own “style” in which they explained about themselves or distinguished culturally from the surrounding majority. The blacks created a unique culture of their own with several different aspects such as language, clothing, hairstyles, or kinesics (White 25-37). The reinforcement in these “style” of their own, the black New Yorkers tried hard to live in a white world. Not only was it a rapid and successful assimilation, but was also a creative adaptation to a hostile world.
This “assimilation” achieved by the black New Yorkers moreover reinforce distinctiveness from the surrounding world. It was processed in this way as an implicit struggle to not be swallowed by the mainstream culture. In a way, it was a resistance to be “melted down.” Likewise, there are other communities that brought with them when they entered the country a value that has been lost in the contemporary American society, such as hard work, family loyalty, and religion faith. These communities are what are called “Little Havana” and “Little Haiti” placed in Miami, where there is a buzzing growth of Hispanic population (Robinson 31-35). They created a cultural enclave for themselves in the middle of a vast white population, and it is outstandingly flourishing.
Having more than enough of varying ethnic groups with respective cultures, the subject of immigrant assimilation has always been a great topic of controversy among people, as it is discussed in a one-page article, “The Melting Pot Survives.” Among those are the ‘Nativists’ and the ‘Multiculturalists,’ who hold different points of view concerning the complicated issue. Nonetheless, they in conclusion have a same standpoint that the immigrants are not successfully amalgamated in the America ways.
Nativists believe that America does no longer have any machine for assimilation that was once in great operation. According to them, immigrants who moved in the 1980s and 1990s needed not to assimilate into the mainstream by the grace of the growing communication means (“The Melting Pot”). With this convenience for their good, they could easily connect with their old countries and create their own enclaves away from home in the new environment. Assimilation, which was once essential in order to survive, is a matter of choice nowadays for newcomers.
Multiculturalists, in another hand, claim that the American mainstream is nothing more than an implicit oppression mechanism that works to subjugate the minority. They believe that the traditional “melting pot” theory in America is becoming old and merely an ideal in this way that: “…the arrival of millions of unassimilated immigrants is requiring America to abandon the old notion of a melting pot and turn itself instead into a “gorgeous mosaic” in which distinctive ethnic groups still manage to make a whole.” (“The Melting Pot”)
Here, one can be awoken by realizing the connection of this multiculturalists’ view with the “salad bowl” notion. The fact that the country of America is absorbing a massive number of newcomers does prove that the country has a multicultural context. However, whether those great varieties of ethnic groups successfully melt down and merge into a new culture that is characteristically “American” remains a question as long as realities such as ethnic dispersion, ethnic segregation, or ethnic poverty exist. Minority groups continue to create and nurture their own culture and maintain its uniqueness while being surrounded by a majority of people. They are able to do that nowadays. The American society therefore is best described as a big bowl full of different ingredients. They all make up the salad by being there, and the more the ingredients, the more the salad becomes rich and tasty.
It is important not to forget though, that there is a flaw in this theory as well. The problem is that one can pick carrots or peas or even lettuce out of the salad if he or she hates them. Anyone can prefer not to put some ingredient in just because they do not want the taste of it to spoil the whole salad. The result of this is an exclusion of certain portions of the salad. Or, one can prepare only a few ingredients and drench them into a dressing and call it a salad. What would this make? – No diversity, no variety. The whole salad bowl can vary according to anyone’s preferences. Imagine a similar manipulation being done by the American society on a larger scale. This will eradicate the whole notion of both the “melting pot” and the “salad bowl.” This is the challenge that the whole American nation has been continuing to face, and the challenges will inevitably remain for the ongoing future as well.
Nation, Indivisible: Is It History?” Washington Post 22 Feb.
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