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From the Melting Pot

 

to the Tossed Salad

 

Metaphor:

 

Why Coercive

 

Assimilation Lacks

 

the Flavors Americans

 

Crave

 


 

in 1908, a time when American immigration was

 

booming from North-western Europe (Booth). This

 

theory later appropriately came under Þre when it

 

became apparent that the mainstream public had

 

no intention of ÒmeltingÓ with certain ÒotherÓ races

 

and cultures. Subsequently, American immigration

 

policies became restrictive based on race, an example

 

of state sponsored racism intended towards reducing

 

the diversity of the melting pot (Laubeov‡). Much

 

has been written about the so-called ÒmythÓ of the

 

melting pot theory (Frey; Booth). However, the

 

metaphor has persisted and epitomizes what some

 

Americans see as an ideal model for this country.

 

The melting pot theory, also referred to as cultural

 

assimilation, revolves around the analogy that Òthe

 

ingredients in the pot (people of different cultures

 

and religions) are combined so as to lose their discrete

 

identities and yield a Þnal product of uniform

 

consistency and ßavor, which is quite different

 

from the original inputsÓ (ÒMelting PotÓ). This idea

 

differs from other analogies, particularly the salad

 

bowl analogy where the ingredients are encouraged

 

to retain their cultural identities, thus retaining their

 

Òintegrity and ßavorÓ while contributing to a tasty

 

and nutritious salad (ÒMelting PotÓ). Yet another

 

food analogy is that of the ethnic stew, where there is a

 

level of compromise between integration and cultural

 

distinctiveness (Laubeov‡).

 

What these food analogies have in common is

 

an appreciation that each of these ethnicities has

 

something to contribute to the society as a whole.

 

By comparing ethnic/cultural groups to ingredients

 

in a recipe, we start with the assumption that each

 

ingredient is important and the Þnal product would

 

not be the same if some distinct ingredient were

 

missing. However, in the melting pot analogy, this

 

premise is the least apparent and can be criticized

 

for its dismissively simplistic social theories. This is

 

one appropriate evaluation of the weaknesses of the

 

melting pot and the tossed salad analogies:

 

In the case of the melting pot the aim is that

 

all cultures become reßected in one common

 

culture, however this is generally the culture

 

of the dominant group - I thought this was

 

mixed vegetable soup but I can only taste tomato.

 

In the case of the salad bowl, cultural groups

 

should exist separately and maintain their

 

practices and institutions, however, Where is

 

the dressing to cover it all? (Laubeov‡).

 


 

by LeAna B. Gloor

 

Americans love pizza, Thai food, burritos, and

 

sushi. Our collective taste buds reßect a culinary

 

appreciation for various culturesÕ foods, and by

 

extension, the cultures that bring us these foods.

 

However, a heightened philosophy of patriotism is

 

currently being promoted that threatens to change

 

our views on ethnicity, culture, and homogenize our

 

tastes. Meanwhile, multiculturalism, where we were

 

asked to celebrate the cultures that brought us every

 

delicacy from samosas to goulash, is waning and

 

being replaced by ever-conservative assimilationoriented thinking. If this trend away from

 

multiculturalism continues and coercive assimilation

 

views become mainstream in America, I believe we

 

will stiße our creative power and squelch the civil

 

liberties that this country is built upon.

 

Amalgamation of materials is the process by

 

which metals are exposed to extremely high heat until

 

they meld into a new compound. With people, this

 

metaphor of a melting pot has long been applied to

 

cultural integration, especially in the case in forming

 

the American nation. A look into the background of

 

this social theory will help us orient ourselves in this

 

debate. The foundation of this theory was perhaps

 

Þrst explained in 1782 by a French immigrant named

 

J. Hector de Crevecoeur, who envisioned America

 

becoming a nation comprised of a completely new

 

race that would eventually affect changes to the world

 

scene through its labour force and its subsequent

 

posterity (Laubeov‡). The metaphor was speciÞcally

 

popularized in a play by Israel Zangwill, entitled

 

ÒThe Melting Pot,Ó which opened in Washington

 

29

 


 

This criticism that the melting pot produces a society

 

that primarily reßects the dominant culture instead

 

of fusing into a completely new entity is reiterated

 

by other sociologists, anthropologists, and cultural

 

geographers as ÒAnglo-conformityÓ (Kivisto 151).

 

This type of assimilation was seen as working like

 

a one-way street and it was viewed as something

 

that depended primarily on the cooperativeness of

 

immigrants to be reoriented towards the dominant

 

culture. The idea that the dominant culture would

 

be infused with new energy through the inßuences

 

of ethnic groups retaining their distinctive cultural

 

attributes and thereby forging a new, stronger

 

America due to their divergent cultural contributions

 

was not given much weight by early researchers

 

(Kivisto 152-154).

 

It should be noted in this discussion that earlier

 

in American sociology history, some of these terms

 

took on distinctly different ßavours. This ambiguity

 

of terminology contributes to confusion in the current

 

discourse. For instance, in 1901, Sarah Simons is

 

quoted as making this conclusion with regards to

 

assimilation:

 

In brief, the function of assimilation is

 

the establishment of homogeneity within

 

the group; but this does not mean that

 

all variation shall be crushed out. In

 

vital matters, such as language, ideals of

 

government, law, and education, uniformity

 

shall prevail; in personal matters of religion

 

and habits of life, however, individuality

 

shall be allowed free play. Thus, the

 

spread of Òconsciousness of kindÓ must be

 

accompanied by the spread of consciousness

 

of individuality (qtd. in Kivsito 153).

 

Furthermore, according to Peter KivistoÕs

 

interpretation of Chicago School sociologist Robert E.

 

ParkÕs writings on the subject, theories on assimilation

 

originally differed from the melting pot fusion theory

 

in that assimilation Òsignals the proliferation of

 

diversity. Rather than enforced conformity, it makes

 

possible a greater degree of individual autonomyÓ

 

and creates Òa cultural climate that is predicated

 

by pluralismÓ whereby this Òcultural pluralism (or

 

multiculturalism) can coexist with assimilationÓ

 

(156-157). The idea that a multiethnic society could

 

attain an interdependent cohesion based on national

 

solidarity while maintaining distinct cultural histories

 

not dependent on like-minded homogeneity was thus

 

proposed back in the early 1900Õs (Kivisto 161).

 

However, it is vital to recognize that coercive

 

assimilation theorists often do not support the idea

 

that immigrants should maintain distinct cultural

 

attributes. In the modern-day discussion, coercive

 


 

assimilation theories often take on a decidedly

 

racist overtone (Laubeov‡), with many assimilation

 

proponents urging Americentric policies such as

 

English-only education, strict immigration policies,

 

stipulations of nationalistic criteria for citizenship,

 

and eliminating programs aimed at helping minorities

 

(Booth; Hayworth). This issue over terminology

 

and social metaphors is vitally important because

 

America stands at a critical ideological turning point.

 

Cultural geographers describe our current society

 

as experiencing a Òmulticultural backlashÓ that

 

will drastically affect immigration legislation and

 

ethnic studies and possibly lead us towards a more

 

restrictive and intolerant nation (Mitchell 641). The

 

current discourse about cultural assimilation seeks

 

to relegate incongruent cultural attributes to the

 

private arena so as not to disturb the dominant society

 

(Mitchell 642), and instead of promoting a tolerance

 

of diversity, we see the modern-day assimilation

 

proponents urging strict deportation and increasingly

 

restrictive immigration policies in order to protect socalled American values (Hayworth).

 

Some proponents, such as Arizona Congressman

 

J.D. Hayworth, are calling for a return of the same

 

type of assimilation policies that others refer to as

 

the Òhumiliating Americanization programs of the

 

1910Õs and 1920ÕsÓ (Rodriguez). Those programs

 

occurred during another time of heightened national

 

concern, namely WWI and the subsequent ÒRed

 

Scare,Ó where coercive education and employment

 

policies were enacted that compelled immigrants

 

to assimilate. This assimilation process was

 

structured to produce citizens that conformed,

 

not just to American democratic ideals, but also to

 

Americanized private habits, American English,

 

and basic political and social ideologies intended to

 

create a pliable work force and ensure certain political

 

leanings (ÒAmericanizationÓ [1]). During the war,

 

immigrants experienced oppression, xenophobia, and

 

propaganda designed to strip them of their native

 

cultures and loyalties. The public school system

 

Òinstructed the children of immigrants in ÒproperÓ

 

Anglo-Saxon values and traditions and strongly

 

encouraged them to take their lessons home to their

 

families (ÒAmericanizationÓ [2]) Meanwhile, ethnic

 

presses were scrutinized and inspected by the U.S.

 

government and higher Þnancial burdens were

 

place upon them from the U.S. Postal Service, who

 

demanded to analyze translations, effectively limiting

 

their freedom of speech and eventually resulting in

 

many presses closing (ÒAmericanizationÓ [2]).

 

After the war, the leftover social strains and

 

extreme patriotism gave vent for new obsessions,

 

including the Red Scare over suspected communists,

 

30

 


 

resurgence in the white supremacist organizations

 

such as the Ku Klux Klan, religiously based

 

fundamentalism, labor strikes, and the prohibition

 

of alcohol (ÒAmericanizationÓ [2]). Certainly, civil

 

liberties were being cast aside, and minority groups

 

bore the brunt of this assault under the guise of

 

becoming more ÒAmericanÓ and less Òforeign.Ó Now

 

we are seeing a similar leaning towards coercive

 

assimilation spreading across America due to the

 

heightened concern over terrorism and the cultural/

 

religious differences that are perceived to be behind

 

that ideological discord. If this assimilation thinking

 

proceeds toward its logical conclusion, America will

 

move backwards socially and become a truly bland

 

melted pot of cultures that is willing to sacriÞce

 

everything under a misplaced paradigm of patriotism.

 

The stance of many coercive assimilation

 

proponents smacks of racist overtones and is based on

 

apprehension of ÒothersÓ and exclusionary thinking

 

more than it is based on preservation of core values.

 

For example, in the case of the political debate over

 

designating English as AmericaÕs ofÞcial language,

 

Thomas Ricento makes this point:

 

The English language has often been used as

 

a marker of oneÕs ÒAmerican-nessÓ, and the

 

use of non-English languages as a marker to

 

oneÕs Òforeign-ness.Ó Penalizing non-English

 

speakers by limiting their access to public

 

services, voting and education is illogical,

 

for it would further stigmatize non-English

 

speakers, rather than help them acquire the

 

language. . . Restricting access of citizens and

 

non-citizens alike because of a language

 

barrier is not only bad public policy, but an

 

insult and a calculated provocation, the initial

 

step would certainly be a pro-tracted conßict

 

between English and non-English speakers

 

(7).

 

The implications of this type of proposed legislation

 

drives fear into minority groups seeking to preserve

 

their cultural heritage against a tide of Americentric

 

propaganda. Ultimately, those seeking to enact

 

coercive assimilation policies threaten to fracture the

 

common ground of the American dream that they

 

claim to be focused on protecting. Minority groups

 

are nearing such numbers in this country that it is

 

projected that the word ÒminorityÓ will soon become

 

obsolete. Enacting exclusionary policies will only

 

fracture an already delicate social framework and

 

potentially further disenfranchise the very groups

 

America needs for inclusive unity.

 


 

On the other hand, multiculturalism has its

 

own set of weak points that need further evaluation

 

and revision. The melting pot and the tossed salad

 

metaphors are both inherently ßawed, at least sofar in their practical application. On this, there

 

are many social theorists who are writing about a

 

compromise between the melting pot approach and

 

the tossed salad analogy. One such new theory is the

 

aforementioned Òethnic stewÓ from Laura Laubeov‡,

 

who hopes that such an analogy can help bridge the

 

gap between the two concepts to create Òa sort of

 

pan-Hungarian goulash where the pieces of different

 

kinds of meat still keep their solid structure.Ó Indeed,

 

some sort of compromise between full assimilation

 

and multiculturalism will be necessary to retain our

 

multiethnic ßavour while building a cohesive society.

 

The bottom line is that people are people, not

 

food. Despite the variety of food metaphors at our

 

disposal, the power of this rhetoric is limited and

 

wears thin during pragmatic application. Food

 

metaphors can be useful, but we do not need more

 

vague metaphors that lead to interpretive disparities.

 

What we need is an entirely new dialogue on the

 

subject, one that completely and clearly redeÞnes

 

AmericaÕs objective for a multiethnic society that

 

allows for diversity, not just in the private realm, but

 

also in the public sphere. We do not need a coercive

 

assimilation program that reverts back to outdated

 

nationalistic paranoia. We need an inclusive working

 

social theory that unites the disparate enclaves of

 

this society into a manageable entity moving in

 

the same collective direction. Whether Americans

 

will ever eventually be reformed into what Israel

 

Zangwill called Òa fusion of all racesÓ remains to be

 

seen (Zangwill). Right now, what America needs

 

is a deÞnitive social direction that leans away from

 

coercive assimilation dogma and towards a truly

 

inclusive national identity. True American dreamers

 

should not settle for anything less.

 


 

31

 


 

WORKS CITED

 

ÒAmericanization.Ó 25 February 2006. <http://

 

migration.ucdavis.edu/mn/cir/95Report7/

 

pages175 200/pages175.htm>.

 


 

Kivisto, Peter. ÒWhat is the Canonical Theory of

 

Assimilation?Ó Journal of the History of the

 

Behavioral Sciences 40.2. (2004): 149-163.

 


 

ÒAmericanizationÓ [2]. American History Study

 

Guide. 6 February 2006. <http://www.

 

book-rags.com/history/americanhistory/

 

americanization-aaw-03/>.

 


 

Laubeov‡, Laura. ÒMelting Pot vs. Ethnic Stew.Ó

 

Encyclopedia of the WorldÕs Minorities.

 

2000. http://www.tolerance.cz/courses/

 

texts/melting.htm.

 


 

Booth, William. ÒOne Nation, Indivisible: Is

 

It History?Ó Washingtonpost com. 22

 

February 1998. 23 February 2006. <www.

 

washingtonpost.com Myth of the Melting Pot

 

AmericaÕs Racial and Ethnic Divides.htm>.

 


 

Mitchell, Katharyne. ÒGeographies of Identity:

 

Multiculturalism Unplugged.Ó Progress in

 

Human Geography 28.5 (2004): 641-651.

 

Ricento, Thomas. ÒA Brief History of Language

 

Restrictionism in the United States.Ó

 

OfÞcial English? No! A Brief History of

 

Language Restrictionism. 27 November

 

2002. 5 March 2006. <http://www.usc.

 

edu/dept/education/CMMR/PolicyPDF/

 

OfÞcialEnglish-Ricento.pdf>.

 


 

ÒMelting Pot.Ó Wikipedia. Feb. 20, 2006. http://

 

en.wikipidea.org/wiki/Melting_pot.

 

Frey, Bill. ÒA Closer Look at the Melting-Pot Myth.Ó

 

Editorial. Newsday. 16 March 01. <http://

 

www.milkeninstitute.org/publications/

 

publications.taf?function=detail&ID=110&

 

cat=Arts>.

 


 

Rodriguez, Gregory. ÒAssimilation Happens ÐDeal

 

With ItÓ Los Angeles Times 10 Oct. 2004. 1

 

February 2006 <http://www.newamerica.

 

net/index.cfm?pg=article&DocID=2003>.

 


 

Hayworth, J.D. ÒImmigrants Need to Embrace U.S.

 

Culture.Ó 1 February 2006. <http://www.

 

azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/viewpoints/

 

articles/0129hayworth0129html>.

 


 

Zangwill, Israel. 26 February 2006. <http://

 

en.thinkexist.com/quotes/israel_zangwill>.

 


 

32

 


 

 







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