Opinion

The Melting Pot or the Salad Bowl?

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There is an identity crisis facing America. For every other state, there is a nation to be defined alongside it. The people of Norway are the Norwegians. The people of Japan are the Japanese. But who are the people of the United States? African-Americans? Muslim-Americans? Chinese-Americans? Why is so much of our identity caught up in ‘the hyphen’?

The answer is two-fold. First, any resemblance of a coherent and sane immigration policy has vanished in this country; be it due to the political strategy employed by the left to garner a larger voter base, or due to the inefficient and deleterious detentions-centers on our borders so often promoted by the right. It used to be the case that when a new wave of immigration struck our country, the borders would be tightened to allow for the citizens to undergo a socialization process within the American culture, and then they would be re-opened when the country was ready for the next wave. They let the pot brew, the German sauerkraut get soft, the Italian spices become absorbed, and the Irish potatoes boil. This approach was not rocket-science, it was common logic.

Today this is no longer the case. Ever since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, our policies have left the country unable to effectively deal with ‘Americanizing’ our citizens. This is not to say the bill did not do well to end the discriminatory National Origins Act, but rather that the bill did not take into account the intent of immigrants. The basis of immigration often comes in the form of seeking refuge, seeking a better home, seeking a better-life—a reactionary response to a bad-situation. First-World Europeans immigrated in a time of need, whereas Third-World immigrants were always in a time of need. Thus, when the bill was passed in 1965 the nature of immigration changed.

Immigration went from dealing with an influx of people that came in waves from specific European countries as a response to some tragedy to a never-ending stream of immigrants from across the world. The United States was simply not capable of dealing with this change adequately, and effective immigration legislation has gone down-hill since.

A country cannot make a decision for the better of itself and its citizens if the ideal of ‘we the People’ is dominated by the concept of ‘I, the hyphenated American’.

But perhaps the problem goes deeper than mere policy. I believe that a shift has occurred within the American culture and our perspective on what it means to be an ‘American’. This brings us to the second point. Somewhere along the way, we as Americans, politicians, and voters have lost the distinction between the processes of assimilation and integration; more specifically, the notion of sacrifice became lost to us. With every one of the great immigration waves—the Germans, the Italians, the Irish—there was present an initiative to give up part of oneself in order to become part of the greater whole. This is the difference between assimilation and integration: assimilation is sacrifice one’s own values, culture, history in order to make room for better ones.

Simply put, a state is comprised of one people brought together through shared values and vision—the melting pot. What we have today is communalism; different groups of people all living as if the U.S. is nothing more than a governed territory absent of culture—the salad bowl. A country cannot make a decision for the better of itself and its citizens if the ideal of ‘we the People’ is dominated by the concept of ‘I, the hyphenated American’.

Until we learn to sacrifice; until we learn to all become Americans, regardless of our background, upbringing, and country of origin we will never meet the standard of togetherness hinted at in the name of our great country—United.

3 Comments

  1. “Until we learn to sacrifice; until we learn to all become Americans, regardless of our background, upbringing, and country of origin we will never meet the standard of togetherness hinted at in the name of our great country—United.”
    For inaptly-named “progressives”, there are only rights, not responsibilities. There can be no successful togetherness when sacrifice is set exclusively on the shoulders of US citizens.

  2. I implore you to think about what Americanness actually means, and then what exactly Americanizing entails. Then think about the common sense/logic rhetoric of the Republican party and its conservatives. The rhetoric of common sense suggests that there is something so natural about a statement or decision that it ought not require any further thought or questioning. Indeed, this his is how Republicans naturalize their ideology: if you cannot see or disagree with the common sense in their policies, then you are either lacking in basic intelligence or think unnaturally.

    Aside from these ideological constructs at play in the article, there is an exclusionary impulse operating throughout. I admire how your use of the hyphen in this article suggests division among Americans, but I fear it does no more than that. To clarify, the article is not advocating the exclusion of immigrants but rather their identities. But if “American” follows the hyphen, then there is nothing to lament. In fact, the use of hyphenated identity is not new. For example, my father, a conservative and the son of two Italian immigrants from Sicily, identifies as an Italian-American.

    Finally, I want to ask you two questions regarding the following quote: “This is the difference between assimilation and integration: assimilation is sacrifice one’s own values, culture, history in order to make room for better ones.” This statement is problematic because you do not define integration anywhere in the article. The terms assimilation and integration are so similar in nature that your point becomes obscured. The vocabulary of both suggests incorporation into society, but since you define assimilation as sacrifice I must assume integration is then societal incorporation without sacrifice. But let me ask, who is doing the sacrifice here if it is not the immigrants? And what exactly do you mean by sacrifice? The most basic assumptions I can make are speaking English instead of their native tongue, learning American history, and the customs/traditions of American people, such as removing a hat at a baseball game to sing the national anthem. But if you believe that it is the American people who are doing the sacrificing (which I gather that you do), then please name the sacrifices you have had to make in your life for these immigrants. Furthermore, have you lived in a place with a significant immigrant population? Do you interact with them on a daily basis if it all?

    Your goal is a noble one in this article: to implore Americans to unite and hold united values. But unfortunately it is tinged with nationalist supremacy and is at its core utopian. Can we really say that America is unquestionably the best nation in the world? Can we really say that our values, culture, and history are in fact “the better ones”? I applaud your journalism and engagement with political thought, but I encourage you to be more flexible in your mentality. Is the essential Americanness that you are after represented by you and your fellow staff, which comprises of all white men with the exception of two white women? Instead of advocating an essentialist, nationalist agenda that excludes the differences of non-normative peoples, perhaps all of us could take the time to learn about the customs and differences of those around us. Instead of thinking of this process as sacrifice, we could and ought to regard it as learning.

  3. Daniel van de Star

    Thanks for your comment! I’d be glad to answer your questions, Reece.

    Concerning your question about the difference in integration vs. assimilation, there is in fact a important difference in these two definitions. Integration is the process of an unit ‘integrating’ into the whole. It remains intact, but is merely absorbed within a greater unit. Assimilation is the break up of the unit into some form that is compatible with the whole. So, to put this less technically envision someone dropping a sugar cube into a cup of coffee. If it were integration, the sugar cube would retain its shape and size. However, in the case of assimilation, the sugar cube would dissolve and make the coffee sweeter. And who doesn’t enjoy a nice sweet cup of coffee?

    In reference to the notion of sacrifice, I believe it is the immigrants who are sacrificing. If you’d like I could expound on what American culture entails, but considering this comment is primarily concerned with the immigrants, I will leave that for another time. I myself am a second-generation immigrant from the Netherlands and have undergone several sacrifices in order to become part of the United States–I am by no means isolated from the tribulations that immigrants to this country face. I have lived in a place with a significant immigrant population and have been involved in many initiatives that work to aid newly immigrated people from around the world. I can assure you my sacrifices have been innumerable.

    Yes, the United States is the best nation-state in the world. If this was not the case, then we would have no immigrants to begin with. Europe is rife with political elitism, multinational corruption, and economic stagnation. The United Kingdom has voiced the gravity of these problems loudly with their referendum. The Middle-East comprises of several Islamist (hint: not Islamic) countries where homosexuality and adultery is punishable by death. Africa is in constant civil-war. South America is so corrupt that even to travel to places like Venezuela you need to hire bodyguards so you do not get kidnapped and ransomed. The common-thread being that in all these places freedom is impacted.

    Frankly, I do not believe this is due to their political system alone. Read Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilization and realize that we are not all the same, and that is a beautiful thing. Each country has rich culture and vast histories that have contributed in very meaningful ways to the world as we know it, but each (as is consistent with path-dependency) has developed their political system based upon a certain set of values. If the United States is the only country in the world where the pursuit and defense of individual freedom is so great that we have abolished slavery, allowed homosexuals to marry, given the right to every person to defend their own livelihood, and granted every citizen the opportunity to reap the benefits of their own efforts (and more importantly, be accountable for their own actions), then its values must be the epitome of contemporary human civilization.

    For future, I would recommend you move away from your racist insinuations that simply because of the color of my skin I am not qualified to engage in journalism. It is not the right approach if you are attempting to actually prove a point. Ad hominem will never disprove an argument, it will only prove your own prejudices.

    Hope my response answered your question.