Melting pot, the combination of people from different cultures, races and religions in one multi-ethnic society, is undoubtedly one of the most important features of the American Identity. It is one of the elements that led to the growth of the population of the United States specifically during the large-scale immigrations at the beginning of the 20th century. In this paper, I am going to have an overall view about the opposing ideas toward this metaphor.
The term, melting pot, got its name in 1908 after the first performance of a play called “The Melting Pot” in Washington DC by Israel Zangwill. The immigrant protagonist of the play announced: “Understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming! A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians-into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.”
One must bear in mind that the idea of melting pot is associated with “model” immigrants who came to the United States legally and through the Ellis Island. They are labeled as model immigrants because they were successful workers who could forget their historic identities and absorb the ways of the host society. That is to say, African Americans and Native Americans are not taken into account. Although African Americans have fully integrated into American culture, the inter-marriage between whites and non-whites was not permitted in many US states until 1967(under anti-miscegenation laws). This issue, excluding African Americans and Native Americans form the melting pot process, is of intense debate nowadays.
Multiculturalist View of the Melting Pot Theory
Multicuturalists are known by the coinage of the term “salad bowl”, or what Canadians call “cultural mosaic”, which means the immigrants do keep their national and cultural characteristics when they integrate into a new society.
Multiculturalists are those who support programs like bilingual education and affirmative action in order to support minority immigrant groups. In other words, they do not agree with the idea of assimilation for immigrants.
The reason behind this lies in the fact that multiculturalists, who have got a strong sense of nationalism, believe that an imposed assimilation can give way to the rise of opposing integration groups. They believe that assimilation makes immigrants lose their original cultural or even linguistic identity.
They also comment that this process of assimilation has created a gap between different members of an immigrant family, as the use of the native language in English classes in the United States has highly been disapproved of. This leads to having more immigrant children who are reluctant to talk in their mother-tongue language at home with their parents.
Assimilationist View of the Melting Pot Theory:
Despite the multiculturalists who view the melting-pot theory as oppressive, the assimilationists argue that it is favorable for both the country and its people economically only and only on the condition that immigration is under control.
Assimilationists believe that this multi-ethnic country has been created because of its success to build one national identity. They argue that giving special privileges to those from different ethnicities creates hatred between the majority group. They believe the government is responsible for helping immigrants to get in line with the mainstream culture.
Assimilationists believe that paying attention to the cultures and customs of the immigrants is impossible to follow, as large numbers of immigrants are coming from third world countries and therefore different backgrounds. That is why they do not agree with multiculturlaists. Besides, they say that even meeting the needs of immigrants will be very costly.
A Moderate View of the Melting-Pot Theory:
What is suggested here by some scholars is that there can be a balance between multiculturalist’s and assimilationist’s points of view. They argue that immigrants do not need to put away their original culture completely. They can consider themselves as citizens of the host country first and as citizens of the country in which they were born second. This idea implies that though they practice their cultural traditions, when it comes to choosing between the two countries, they will serve the interests of the host country as it is of overriding importance to them.
They comment that while English is the main language spoken in schools, there must be optional courses for foreign languages. Advocators of this view claim that when the government supports such cultural practices within the immigrant minority groups, the immigrants will automatically share a love of the host country.
Does the Melting Pot Boil over?
According to some scholars, yes. There have been claims that The United States is beyond its limit to accept any more immigrants, specifically more Mexican immigrants. Apparently as Mexicans are coming to the country in large numbers, they feel very comfortable with their own culture and not only have they assimilated into the American culture and identity, but also they are seen as a threat to American culture and identity as they are changing them dramatically.
In conclusion, although it is crystal clear to all that US history is that of immigration, the American identity is doomed to change if immigration control and most importantly border control (in case of Mexicans) are neglected.