FROM MELTING POT TO SALAD BOWL - CHANGE
OF AMERICAN MULTIETHNIC CONDITIONS
Throughout its history, the US has served as a major destination for a steady flow of immigrants. As Leonard Dinnerstein and David M. Reimers (1975, 58 p.) introduced intheir book, Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration and Assimilation: “Never before – and in no other country – have as many varied ethnic groups congregated and amalgamated as they have in the United States”. With such reputation, here is exactly the place from which the well-known term “Melting Pot” arises. This concept has traditionally been preferred as the best expression to describe the multi-ethnicity of the US, which means people from different ethnic groups discard their old identities and forge a new identity immediately after entering the US. Along with this perspective, however, there is a recent trend to describe the diversity of people in the US as a “Salad Bowl”, which refers to the situation where newly arrived immigrants do not lose the unique aspects of their cultures like in the melting pot model, instead they retain them. The unique characteristics of each culture are still identifiable within the larger American society, much like the salad bowl, where all the ingredients are still identifiable, yet contribute to the overall make up of the salad bowl.
Studies on the multiethnic conditions of the US have been numerous and various. However, they generally focused on criticizing the “Melting Pot” theory and eulogizing the “Salad Bowl” theory. This work is trying to focus on a different angle，by analyzing the reasons accounting for the shift of American society from a “melting pot” to a “salad bowl”，it aims to show to the readers that it is more appropriate to label the US as a “Salad Bowl” rather than a “Melting Pot”.
This work will start by a brief introduction to the two terms and an explanation of their difference, and then move to a general description of the multiethnic conditions of the US, including the major waves of immigration to the US in history and the current ethnic dispersion and segregation of the US. It will finally concentrate on the reasons accounting for the shift of American society from a “melting pot” to a “salad bowl” by focusing the discussion on political factors, economic factors, ethnic factors as well as other related factors. Via analyzing these reasons, the writer attempts to give a tentative analysis of the reasons accounting for the shift of American society from a ‘melting pot’ to a ‘salad bowl’.
2. Literature Review
With the general growth of immigration into the US in recent years, it is hardly surprising that the multiethnic conditions of the US have attracted considerable attention in recent years. The US has traditionally been referred to as a “melting pot”, which has received much criticism in recent years. Glazer, Nathan and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in their book Beyond the Melting Pot (1970), showed their disapproval of the American melting-pot policy: “immigrants and their descendants were discouraged from maintaining close ties with their countries and cultures of origin. Instead, they were encouraged to assimilate into the American way of life.” And Camarota (2001) also pointed out: “ melting pot is a kind of cultural chauvinism, as the ethnic minorities who are considered to be the others are almost invisible for a long time in American history, we can hardly find their traces, hear their voices in that the dominant group deprived them of the rights as citizens”
In recent years, there emerged the “Salad Bowl Theory”, which has met with overwhelming enthusiasm. And much of the works emphasized its advantages. As Fen Dan pointed out in her dissertation that “all the elements (ethnic groups) retain the core aspects of their original identity, but in combination create a new super-ordinate form where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” But still some other people noticed the flaw of this theory, for example, Milton Singer (1986) wrote “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.” 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.
3. A comparison between the Melting Pot Theory and the Salad Bowl Theory
3.1. The Definition of both theories
3.1.1. The Melting Pot Theory
In general, “melting pot” is a term in industry, which refers to a smelting furnace in which many things can be put together so as to make a new product. The US has traditionally been referred to as a "melting pot", which was introduced in 1908 by British Jewish immigrant Israel Zangwill in his new play The Melting Pot to President Theodore Roosevelt, where he portrayed the US as God’s crucible. Thus the term was popularized. This concept 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 takes 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.” To accomplish this each culture gives up their own identity to become part of the dominant group (Camarota, 54 p.)
3.1.2. The Salad Bowl Theory
In comparison with the “melting pot” theory, there is the “salad bowl” theory, which came into being in more recent time. This idea demonstrates a complete separate perspective that the newcomers bring different cultures, where each of these cultures is still kept as an essential part to make up the whole. The unique characteristics of each culture and ethnic group are still identifiable within the larger American society, much like the ingredients in a salad bowl, yet contribute to the overall make up of the salad. It is in this way that its original shapes and characteristics are maintained (Camarota 117 p.). This theory is also referred to as “Pluralism” or “Mosaicism”.
3.2. The differences between the two theories
According to the definition of the two theories, although they do bear some resemblance---a new thing is formed by mixing different substances together, they have different meaning with a different way of approaching and explaining American society. Melting pot emphasizes the production of a new thing by changing the different component parts, while salad bowl focuses on creating a new thing without changing different component parts. Thus, a melting-pot society refers to a place where immigrants of different cultures gather together and form one integrated society, while a mosaic society is a place where immigrants of different cultures or races gather together and each keeps its own individual characteristics. Having a close look at the reality of the US, such as the major waves of immigration to this country in history, the existing ethnic segregation, one can see that the “melting pot” theory does not hold water any more, and despite its long fame, it is rather more appropriate to label the US as a “salad bowl.”
4. The multiethnic conditions of the US
4.1. Major waves of immigration to the US in history
In order to discuss the mix of people in the US, it is quite necessary to reveal to what extent the country is ethnically diversified.
As a country of immigration from its origin, the US has been experiencing an influx of new people throughout its history. As Handlin puts it, “immigrants were American history,” there is no exaggeration to say that the history of the US cannot be separated with the history of immigration.
The sources of immigration have changed a number of times over the years. In general, four relatively distinct periods can be identified. Before 1881, the vast majority of immigrants (moving from one country to permanently settle down in another), almost 86% of the total, arrived from northwest Europe, principally Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. During the colonial period, most immigrants arrived from Britain, but other European countries were represented as well, including France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Wales. The years between 1881 and 1893 saw a transition in the sources of U.S. immigrants. After 1881, immigrant volume from central, eastern, and southern Europe began to increase rapidly. Between 1894 and 1914, immigrants from southern, central, and Eastern Europe accounted for 69% of the total. With the onset of World War I in 1914, the sources of U.S. immigration again changed. From 1915 to the present, the major source of immigrants to the United States has been from the Western Hemisphere, accounting for 47% of the total number. In the period between 1915 and 1960, nearly all of the remaining immigrants came from Europe, though no specific part of Europe was dominant. From the 1960s, the number of immigration from Europe dropped greatly and was replaced by a much larger percentage of immigrants from Asia and Latin America (http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/cohn.immigration.us). Thus, over the course of U.S. history, the sources of immigration have changed from northwestern Europe to southern, central and Eastern Europe to Asia and Latin America in combination with Europe, to the current situation where most immigrants come from Latin America or Asia.
Thus, the number of immigrants tends to grow year by year, expanding the diversity within the state. 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” (1970), 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”. This has stated clearly that the incoming people are particularly the minorities and the 70 million immigrants who have arrived since the founding of the republic are responsible for the majority of the contemporary American population.
4.2. The current ethnic dispersion and segregation of the US
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. It is one of the great tributes to supporting the “salad bowl” theory and consequently denying the “melting pot” theory.
For one thing, the incoming people do not spread out within the country. Statistics from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey done by the Center for Immigration Studies show that 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 the US does not have a mix of people everywhere.
Another point is that even in large cities manifesting its multiculturalism to the outside world, a severe reality of ethnic segregation submerges under the surface. Take the city of New York for example. The sociologists, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, have done an extensive observation regarding this city. 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.
So from what has been shown above, we can see that there are intricate sets of dividing lines drawn into the vast land of the US in accordance with the ethnicity of people and dividing them apart.
5. The reasons accounting for the shift of American society from a “melting pot” to a “salad bowl”
5.1. The political reasons
In American history political reasons is an important aspect accounting for the shift from “melting pot” to “salad bowl”, especially the immigration policy of the US.
Immigration into the United States was subject to almost no legal restrictions before 1882. Due to industrialization of the US, immigrants in the turn of the 20th century reached its peak. The first restrictive immigration laws were targeted against immigrants from Asian countries. The first law was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which essentially prohibited the immigration of Chinese citizens and it stayed effective until it was removed during World War II. In 1907, Japanese immigration saw a sharp decrease through a Gentlemen's Agreement between the United States and Japan. It is noteworthy that the Chinese Exclusion Act also prohibited the immigration of "convicts, lunatics, and idiots" and those people who might need to be supported by the government. The latter provision was used to some extent during periods of high unemployment, though as noted above, immigration fell anyway because of the shortage of jobs.
The desire to restrict immigration to the United States continued to grow over the latter part of the nineteenth century. This growth was due partly to the high volume and rate of immigration and partly to the changing national origins of the immigrants; more began arriving from southern, central, and Eastern Europe. In 1907, Congress set up the Immigration Commission, chaired by Senator William Dillingham, to investigate immigration. This institution issued a well-known report, now viewed as flawed, concluding that immigrants from the newer parts of Europe did not assimilate easily and, in general, blaming them for various kinds of economic ills. Attempts at restricting immigration were originally made by proposing a law that requires a literacy test for admission into the United States, and such a law was finally passed in 1917. This same law also virtually inhibited immigration from any countries in Asia. Restrictionists were no doubted dissatisfied when the number of immigration from Europe reached its former level again after World War I despite the literacy test. The movement then turned to explicitly limiting the volume of new arrivals.
The Quota Act of 1921 laid the foundation for a profound change in US immigration policy, which limited the number of European immigrants to a total of about 350,000 every year. National quotas were established in direct proportion to each country's presence in the population of the US in 1910. Besides, the act assigned Asian countries quotas near zero. Generally speaking, the discriminatory Quota Act was based on ethnic origins. Its departure point were to maintain the purity of so-called WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture and values, and to hold their national strength not preponderated by those “who could never be assimilated”.
So here we can see it clearly that from the founding days of the US until World War II, the emphasis of the US immigration law was on maintaining its original racial and religious characteristics. By limiting the ethnic origins of the immigrants, the US immigration policy crushes and blends cultural and ethnical differences and thus, makes the US society a huge “melting pot”.
The last major change in U.S. immigration policy took place with the sanction of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This law abolished the quotas based on national origins. The 1965 law kept an overall quota on total immigration from Eastern Hemisphere countries, initially set at 170,000, and less than 20,000 individuals were allowed to immigrate to the United States from any single country. The aim of this law was to treat all countries equally. Asian countries were treated the same as any other country, so the virtual prohibition on immigration from Asian countries was removed. In addition, the United States has admitted a great number of refugees at different times from Cuba, Vietnam, and some other countries. Finally, many people come to the United States on student visas, enroll in universities and colleges, and eventually get enterprises to sponsor them for a work visa. Therefore, the actual number of legal immigrants to the United States since 1965 has always been larger than the combined quotas. This law has led to an increase in the volume of immigration and, by treating all countries the same, has led to Asia recently becoming a more important source of U.S. immigrants.
These new immigrants, especially those from Asia and Latin America, found it difficult to assimilate into the new environment in a short period of time due to their drastic difference from the WASP both ethnically and culturally. Furthermore, the increasing volume of immigrants has greatly raised their social status and made them have louder voice in social life. In the 1960s, American society had been witnessing a fierce turmoil. However, ethnic minorities had risen as a major political force in the political arena, whose strong political appeal had further strengthened their national consciousness. Therefore, they continue to create and nurture their own culture and maintain its uniqueness while being surrounded by a majority of people. Besides, the international situation in this period also lead to a drastic change in the ideological values of the American people: after the Second World War, the Soviet Union has made significant progress in the field of science and technology, while the US has projected an unfavorable image in international affairs. The rise of national liberation movements have spread all over the world and lead to the disintegration of the Western colonial systems, and thus, greatly strengthened the national confidence of the world's ethnic minorities. In the United States, the direct result of this trend is the strengthened ethnic consciousness of the ethnic minorities, which can be perceived in the first Black Power movement, the Brown Power movement (Hispanics), Red Power movement (Native Americans) and Yellow Power movement (Asian Americans). It was an assertion, revival, and consolidation of suppressed ethnic cultures. This is no longer the time when the American people can be distinguished by political and social nature, but of a time when ethnic distinctions are regarded as the main criteria for the Americans. This caused the collapse of the mainstream social values of the United States. Multi-culturalism is inevitable. As a result, to adapt to this multiethnic trend, the Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Right Act of 1965, guaranteeing basic rights for all Americans, regardless of race. The changing immigration policy, the Civil Rights Movement, together with the anti-Vietnam war movement, undermined the values and assumptions of the dominant culture, and became a drive toward true pluralism of cultures and subcultures.
5.2. The economic reasons
Economic factors also play an important role in the gradual shift from a “melting pot” to a “salad bowl”.
In the past, many immigrants came to the US with the “American dream”. The differences in the degree of industrialization and urbanization between their home country and the United States drove millions of people to enter the US in order to make a difference to their life. Besides, the economic development of the US created a great demand of labor, which became especially pronounced when the United States entered World War II. These immigrants are in most cases poor, unskilled, and poorly-educated. To them, going up the economic ladder entails a process of assimilation. Milton Singer, for example, states as follows:
“……social mobility into a representation of “melting pot” and the “American dream” was based on 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” (Singer 106-107 p.).
His view expresses the idea that there exists a great number of ethnic minorities at the bottom of the American social class system. When they successfully escape from that status is the day when they assimilate into the American society.
However, with the development of US economy and the change of US immigration policy, this idea does not hold water. In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act came into being, which abolished the quotas based on national origins and instead, introduced a series of preferences to determine who would gain entry. The most important preference was given to professionals, scientists, artists, and workers in short supply. These people, who are usually well-educated and receive a decent salary, have already reached the top of the economic ladder. There is no need for them to seek active assimilation into the mainstream society in order to improve their economic status. Furthermore, these people tend to have more consciousness toward their own identity. Their insistence on ethnic identity reversed the older trend for assimilation to the “White”.
As for those immigrants who are poor and unskilled, it is another story. If people follow Milton Singer’s viewpoint as stated above, it is safe to conclude that these people have to seek active assimilation into the mainstream society in order to secure a better job. However, the actual situation turns out to be quite different. As is known to all, the US has achieved a high level of modernization. But along with it came a serious urban problem known as the urban sprawl, which is affecting many US cities. 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 accelerating the process, but even among those, there is an issue related to ethnicity as well.
One of the leading factors to this problem is the wish of people to live away from poverty. Many moderate-income people in the US yearn to live in “an environment free from of poverty,” believes Anthony Downs (Harrigan and Vogel, 2003, 223 p.). They hate to be put together in the same area with those poor people and be perceived as poor as well. People with more wealth are able to move to a higher-income community where houses are much more expensive but are far away from poverty. The more people flee away for this reason, the more deterioration advances, and leading to a concentration of poverty in the central city.
And behind this process hides a particular trend in America. It is not a simple phenomenon of the rich ones running away from the poor ones. 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 proposes that poverty is a more burden to the minority groups than it is to the white people in the US. Moreover, to be black or poor or Hispanic is in most cases associated with isolation from the mainstream society as in forms of ghettos and so on. Also, housing assistance offered by the local government considerably differs between the whites and the minorities: housing assistance for poor blacks means providing housing in a public housing project located in a highly-concentrated poor neighborhood, while housing assistance for poor whites means giving a subsidized housing unit that can be privately owned in lower-poverty suburbs (Harrigan and Vogel, 123 p.). It is apparent from these facts shown by Rusk, that poverty in the US is characteristically concentrated on the minority groups, and that the policies of the US government are practiced with the aim to distinguish whites from the minority. Such society, consequently, contributes substantially 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 like this: the rich white people do not want to be perceived as the same as the poor minority groups and run away from them. And for these unskilled people who may want to seek active convergence into the US, the overall situation is that they are deprived of the chance, because the mainstream society is always trying to evade them.
So from what has been discussed above, we can see that in recent times, for economic reasons, many immigrants do not assimilate into the mainstream, either actively or passively. The American society is not exactly a mixture of ethnic diversity, but a collection of groups of people. Among the different groups are the vague section lines and boundaries that distinguish one from another. So “salad bowl” is more appropriate in explaining the current ethnic conditions of the US.
5.3. The ethnical reasons accounting for the shift
To discuss the gradual shift of the US from a “melting pot” to a “salad bowl”, ethnic factors can never be avoided. To be specific, it refers to the change of the ethnic origin of the immigrants.
As stated above, the 70 million immigrants who have arrived since the founding of the republic are responsible for the majority of the contemporary American population. And from the second part of this thesis, we can see in the following years until the 1960s, the majority of immigrants to the US were from the Europe, who share more cultural and religious similarities with the US. Therefore it was easier for them to assimilate into the US mainstream. However, the picture was changed in 1965. The new criteria for admission under the 1965 Act were scarce occupational skills and family reunification. The new preference system allowed highly skilled professionals, primarily engineers, doctors, and architectures from Asian countries, to immigrate and eventually to support their families. About the same time and largely independent of the 1965 Immigration Act, immigration from Latin America began to soar greatly. Legal as well as undocumented immigrants from Mexico surged after a temporary farm worker program known as the Bracero Program was abolished in 1964. Migration from Cuba surged due to Castro’s Revolution, as some elites and professional as well as middle class families fled persecution in the 1960s and 1970s. From the 1970s, there were several waves of Cambodian, Vietnamese and Laos refugees following the collapse of the US-supported regimes in Southeast Asia. In the 1980s, there were new refugees from Central American nations such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. According to statistics from the National Census Bureau, Hispanics from Cuba, Mexico and etc., as well as their descendents have already exceeded the Afro-Americans, and become the largest minority group. Then the Black follows, and the Asian-Americans are the third largest minority group. In 1960, the whites accounted for 88.6% of the entire American population, the 1990’s census, however, displayed that they only took up 75.6%, the percentage dropped 13 points during the thirty years. These people, with distinct cultural, religious background as well as lifestyle from the US, find it much harder for them to assimilate into the US society. Therefore, many of them chose to break away from the historical orientation endowed by the mainstream, redefine their identity according to their ethnic origin and history.
So here we can see that the change of the ethnic structure of the immigration to US in recent decades is an important cause of the shift from a “melting pot” to a “salad bowl”, since the ethnic groups are the solid foundation for the rise of the Multiculturalism. Through this process they successfully win dignity and accumulate force, and furthermore, what they essentially have achieved is shaking the central status of the WASP culture as well as the western civilization, smashing the myth of Melting Pot with Salad Bowl ---- a more accurate description to American culture, and establishing their own perspective to the problem of identity.
5.4. Other reasons accounting for the shift
Some other reasons though may not be obvious, also contribute to the shift. For example, the influence from Canada, a country which is regarded as a symbol of carrying out multiculturalism. In order to guarantee different ethnic groups to enjoy the equal treatment in cultural and social activities, Canadian congress has passed the resolution of making multiculturalism as its basic state policies since1971. After that, Canadian government wrote multiculturalism in the constitution in 1982, and appointed a cabinet minister to be in charge of multicultural affairs. As neighboring countries sharing so many cultural and religious similarities as well as common interests, what Canada practices will definitely exert certain influence in the decision making of US as well as the mainstream social values. Besides, with the rapid development of science and technology, immigrants who moved in the 1980s and 1990s needed not to assimilate into the mainstream owning to the growing communication means. With this great convenience for their good, they could easily connect with their old countries and create their own enclaves off home in a new environment. Assimilation, which was once considered as indispensable in order to survive, is a matter of option nowadays for newcomers.
In this work, two influential theories have been introduced: the Melting Pot Theory and the Salad Bowl Theory. It further describes the multiethnic conditions of the US in order to pave the way for the following analysis of the reasons accounting for the shift of American society from a “melting pot” to a “salad bowl”. The writer has analyzed the reasons from political, economic, ethnic as well as other related perspective. The writer of this dissertation concludes that the current multiethnic condition of the US is in accordance with the “Salad Bowl Theory” rather than the “Melting Pot Theory”, therefore, it is more appropriate to label the US as a “Salad Bowl” rather than a “Melting Pot”.
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