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From the Melting Pot


to the Tossed Salad




Why Coercive


Assimilation Lacks


the Flavors Americans





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





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




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,





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




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.








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


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.





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


Encyclopedia of the WorldÕs Minorities.







Booth, William. ÒOne Nation, Indivisible: Is


It History?Ó Washingtonpost com. 22


February 1998. 23 February 2006. <www. 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.







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


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


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







Rodriguez, Gregory. ÒAssimilation Happens ÐDeal


With ItÓ Los Angeles Times 10 Oct. 2004. 1


February 2006 <http://www.newamerica.





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


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





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







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