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Either immigrants bring themselves “up”

to native cultural standards,
or they are doomed to live “out”
of the charmed circle of the national culture.

UP OR OUT
Most Americans, both those who favor and those
who oppose assimilation, believe that for immi-
grants to assimilate, they must abandon their origi-
nal cultural attributes and conform entirely to the
behaviors and customs of the majority of the native-
born population. In the terminology of the armed
forces, this represents a model of “up or out”: Either
immigrants bring themselves “up” to native cultural
standards, or they are doomed to live “out” of the
charmed circle of the national culture.
Here is the example of Israel on that kind of as- Proponents of the Melting Pot policy asserted Today the reaction to this doctrine is ambivalent; And here is also an interesting case of the politics As a result of this denial of citizenship, the Rus-
similation. In the early years of the state of Israel that it applied to all newcomers to Israel equally; some say that it was a necessary measure in the of identity in post-independence Latvia. There has sian community complains of loss of jobs (e.g.,
the term melting pot, also known as “Ingathering specifically, that Eastern European Jews were founding years, while others claim that it amount- been a spectrum of responses to the presence of pharmacists, lawyers, firemen, doctors, police-
of the Exiles”, was not a description of a process, pressured to discard their Yiddish culture as ruth- ed to cultural oppression. Others argue that the Russians in the Newly Independent States of Eur- men and elected politicians are no longer careers
but an official governmental doctrine of assimi- lessly as Mizrahi Jews were pressured to give up melting pot policy did not achieve its declared asia, from polite disinterest to seething animos- open to non-citizens regardless of talent or expe-
lating the Jewish immigrants that originally came the culture which they developed during centuries target: for example, the persons born in Israel ity. In the Baltics, Estonia and Latvia in particu- rience), complications traveling abroad, attempts
from varying cultures. This was performed on of life in Muslim countries. Critics respond, how- are more similar from an economic point of view lar, nationalizing states disenfranchised a large at forcible assimilation and other calculated
several levels, such as educating the younger ever, that a cultural change effected by a struggle to their parents than to the rest of the population. number of Russians and other non-indigenous policies intended to provoke people into emigrat-
generation, with the parents not having the final within the Ashkenazi-East European community, The policy is generally not practised today though nationalities. In order to meet the stringent citi- ing. Thus many Russians, who form majorities in
say, and, to mention an anecdotal one, encour- with younger people voluntarily discarding their as there is less need for that - the mass immi- zenship requirements, Russians and other non- many areas of these states (upwards of 95 per-
aging and sometimes forcing the new citizens to ancestral culture and formulating a new one, is gration waves at Israel’s founding have declined. titulars had to meet historical residency require- cent in some localities), are now stateless people
adopt a Hebrew name. not parallel to the subsequent exporting and im- Nevertheless, one fifth of current Israel’s Jewish ments (typically requiring an individual or his or without the ability to vote for their leaders or run
posing of this new culture on others, who had no population have immigrated from former Soviet her forebears to have been living in the state prior for office, and whose guarantee of basic human
part in formulating it. Also, it was proven to truth Union in the last two decades; The Jewish popu- to Soviet annexation in 1940), prove language rights within their state of residence remain tenu-
Activists such as the Iraq-born Ella Shohat that
that extirpating the Yiddish culture had been in it- lation includes other minorities such as Haredi proficiency, make loyalty oaths, and satisfy other ous. Latvia and Estonia defend the actions taken
an elite which developed in the early 20th Cen-
self an act of oppression only compounding what Jews; Furthermore, 20% of Israel’s population is benchmarks. Many have been unable or unwilling against their minority communities as an appro-
tury, out of the earlier-arrived Zionist Pioneers of
was done to the Mizrahi immigrants. Arab. These factors as well as others contribute to meet these metrics (which are not required of priate response to illegal migration conducted
the Second and Third Aliyas, immigration waves,
to the rise of pluralism as a common principle in titulars). In the case of Estonia, the Law on Aliens under the aegis of the occupying Soviet Army.
and who gained a dominant position in the Yi-
the last years. (1993) went beyond simple disenfranchisement
shuv, pre-state community, since the 1930s, had
formulated a new Hebrew culture, based on the and implied that Russians and other non-citizens
values of Socialist Zionism, and imposed it on all (Jews, Ukrainians, Tatars, etc.) may be subject to
later arrivals, at the cost of suporessing and eras- expulsion in the future.
ing these later immigrants’ original culture.
MELTI NG POT
“Here shall they all unite to build
the Republic of Man and
the Kingdom of God.”
In America, however, assimilation has not meant repudiating immi-
grant culture. Assimilation, American style has always been much
more flexible and accommodating and, consequently, much more
effective in achieving its purpose—to allow the United States to
preserve its “national unity in the face of the influx of hordes of
persons of scores of different nationalities,” in the words of the
sociologist Henry Fairchild.

A popular way of getting hold of the assimilation idea has been to
use a metaphor, and by far the most popular metaphor has been
that of the “melting pot,” a term introduced in Israel Zangwill’s
1908 play of that name: “There she lies, the great Melting-Pot—
Listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling?...Ah, what a
stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and
Syrian, black and yellow...Jew and Gentile....East and West, and
North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator,
the crescent and the cross—how the great Alchemist melts and
fuses them with his purifying flame! Here shall they all unite to
build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God.”
The term melting pot refers to the idea that societies formed by The history of the melting pot theory can be traced back to 1782 The melting pot reality was limited only to intermixing between Eu- Since the Second World War, the idea of the melting pot has become
immigrant cultures, religions, end ethnic groups, will produce new when J. Hector de Crevecoeur, a French settler in New York, envi- ropeans with a strong emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon culture while racially inclusive in the United States, gradually extending also to
hybrid social and cultural forms. The notion comes from the pot in sioned the United States not only as land of opportunity but as a the input of minority cultures was only minor. Non-white Americans acceptance of marriage between whites and non-whites. This trend
which metals are melted at great heat, melding together into new society where individuals of all nations are melted into a new race were for centuries not regarded by most white Americans as equal towards greater acceptance of ethnic and racial “minorities” by
compound, with great strength and other combined advantages. In of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause changes citizens and suitable marriage partners. “WASPs” (Anglo-Americans and other, mainly Protestant Americans
comparison with assimilation, it implies the ability of new or sub- in the world (Parrillo, 1997). The new nation welcomed virtually all The mixing of whites and blacks, resulting in multiracial children, for of Northern European descent) was first evident in popular culture.
ordinate groups to affect the values of the dominant group. Some- immigrants from Europe in the belief that the United States would which the term “miscegenation” was coined in 1863, was a taboo,
times it is referred to as amalgamation, in the opposition to both become, at least for whites, the “melting pot” of the world. This idea and most whites opposed marriages between whites and blacks. In Since the successes of the American Civil Rights Movement and the
assimilation and pluralism. was adopted by the historian Frederick Jackson Turner (1893) who many states, marriage between whites and non-whites was even enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which
updated it with the frontier thesis. Turner believed that the chal- prohibited by state law through anti-miscegenation laws. allowed for a massive increase in immigration from Latin America
Although the term melting pot may be applied to many countries in lenge of frontier life was the country´s most crucial force, allowing and Asia, intermarriage between white and non-white Americans
the world, such as Brazil, Bangladesh or even France, mostly refer- Europeans to be “Americanised” by the wilderness (Takaki, 1993). A Did therefore Non-white Americans not fit into melting pot dis- has been increasing. The taboo on marriage between whites and
ring to increased level of mixed race and culture, it is predominantly major influx of immigrants occurred mainly after the 1830s, when courses at all. Intermarriage between Anglo-Americans and white African Americans also appears to be fading. In 2000, the rate of
used with reference to USA and creation of the American nation, as large numbers of British, Irish, and Germans began entering, to be immigrant groups was acceptable as part of the melting pot narra- black-white marriage was greater than the rate of Jewish-Gentile
a distinct “new breed of people” amalgamated from many various joined after the Civil War by streams of Scandinavians and then tive. But when the term was first popularized in the early twentieth marriage (between Jewish Americans and other whites) in 1940.
groups of immigrants. As such it is closely linked to the process of groups from eastern and southern Europe as well as small num- century, most whites did not want to accept non-whites, and espe-
Americanisation. The theory of melting pot has been criticised both bers from the Middle East, China, and Japan. Before the outbreak of cially African-Americans, as equal citizens in America’s melting pot
as unrealistic and racist, because it focused on the Western heri- World War I in 1914, the American public generally took it for grant- society. Native Americans in the United States enrolled in tribes did
tage and excluded non-European immigrants. Also, despite its pro- ed that the constant flow of newcomers from abroad, mainly Eu- not have US citizenship until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, and
claimed “melting” character its results have been assimilationist. rope, brought strength and prosperity to the country. The metaphor were subjected to government policies of enforced cultural assimi-
of the “melting pot” symbolized the mystical potency of the great lation, which was termed “Americanization”.
democracy, whereby people from every corner of the earth were
fused into a harmonious and admirable blend. A decline in immigra-
tion from northwestern Europe and concerns over the problems of
assimilating so many people from other areas prompted the pas-
sage in the 1920s of legislation restricting immigration, one of the
measures reflecting official racism.
BEYOND THE
MELTI NG POT
Critics of the metaphor have spanned the ideological spectrum and
mounted several different lines of attack on it. Empiricists submit-
ted evidence that the melting pot wasn’t working as predicted and
concluded, as did Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan in
Beyond the Melting Pot (1963), “The point about the melting pot...is
that it did not happen.” Other critics rejected the second corollary
of the metaphor—that natives were changed by it, too—and saw no
reason that native Americans should give up any part of their cul-
tural attributes to “melt” into the alloy. If true assimilation were to
occur, the criticism went, immigrants would have to abandon all their
cultural baggage and conform to American ways. It is the immigrant,
said Fairchild, representing the views of many Americans, “who must
undergo the entire transformation; the true member of the American
nationality is not called upon to change in the least.”

“The point about the
“The point about the melting pot...
A third strain of criticism was first voiced by sociologist Horace Kal-

melting pot...is that
len in the early part of this century. Among the most prolific American
scholars of ethnicity, Kallen argued that it was not only unrealistic

is that it did not happen.”
but cruel and harmful to force new immigrants to shed their famil-

it did not happen.”
iar, lifelong cultural attributes as the price of admission to American
society. In place of the melting pot, he called for “cultural pluralism.”
In Kallen’s words, national policy should “seek to provide conditions
under which each [group] might attain the cultural perfection that is
proper to its kind.”
One of the early critiques of the melting pot idea was Louis Adamic,
novelist and journalist who wrote about the experience of American
immigrants in the early 1900s and about what he called the failure
of the American melting pot in Laughing in the Jungle (1932). Both
the frontier thesis and the melting pot concept have been criticised
as idealistic and racist as they completely excluded non-European
immigrants, often also East and South Europeans. The melting pot
reality was limited only to intermixing between Europeans with a
strong emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon culture while the input of mi-
nority cultures was only minor. Some theorists developed a theory
of the triple melting pot arguing that intermarriage was occurring
between various nationalities but only within the three major reli-
gious groupings: Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. Milton Gordon
and Henry Pratt Fairchild proposed the assimilation theory as an
alternative to the melting pot one (Parrillo, 1997).

Many current proponents of the melting pot are inspired by the
“English only” movement with exclusive emphasis on Western heri-
tage and argument against pluralism and accommodation and re-
lated policies, such as bilingual education.

Ideally the concept of melting pot should also entail mixing of vari-
ous “races”, not only “cultures”. While promoting the mixing of cul-
tures the ultimate result of the American variant of melting pot hap-
pened to be the culture of white Anglo Saxon men with minimum
impact of other minority cultures. Moreover, the assumption that
culture is a fixed construct is flawed. Culture should be defined
more broadly as the way one approaches life and makes sense of
it. Group’s beliefs are determined by conditions and so culture is
a continuous process of change and its boundaries are always po-
rous. In a racist discourse, however the culture needs to be seen
as a predetermined and rigid phenomenon that would be appropri-
ate for replacing the no longer acceptable concept of race in order
to perpetuate inequalities. Many multicultural initiatives aiming at
integration/ inclusion of minorities, while following the melting pot
ideal, often result in assimilationist and racist outcomes. Melting
pot would assume learning about other cultures in order to enhance
understanding, mixing, and mutual enrichment; in practice it often
tends to ignore similarities of different “races” as it does not allow
to include them.
CULTURAL
PLURA L I SM
Cultural pluralism rejects melting-pot assimilationism not on em-
pirical grounds, but on ideological ones. Kallen and his followers
believed that immigrants to the United States should not “melt”
into a common national ethnic alloy but, rather, should steadfastly
hang on to their cultural ethnicity and band together for social and
political purposes even after generations of residence in the United
States. As such, cultural pluralism is not an alternative theory of
assimilation; it is a theory opposed to assimilation.

Cultural pluralism is, in fact, the philosophical antecedent of mod-
ern multiculturalism—what I call “ethnic federalism”: official rec-
ognition of distinct, essentially fixed ethnic groups and the doling
out of resources based on membership in an ethnic group. Ethnic
federalism explicitly rejects the notion of a transcendent American
identity, the old idea that out of ethnic diversity there would emerge
a single, culturally unified people. Instead, the United States is to

BEYOND THE
be viewed as a vast ethnic federation—Canada’s Anglo-French
arrangement, raised to the nth power. Viewing ethnic Americans
as members of a federation rather than a union, ethnic federal-
ism, a.k.a. multiculturalism, asserts that ethnic Americans have
the right to proportional representation in matters of power and
privilege, the right to demand that their “native” culture and puta-
tive ethnic ancestors be accorded recognition and respect, and the
right to function in their “native” language (even if it is not the lan-
guage of their birth or they never learned to speak it), not just at
home but in the public realm.

Ethnic federalism is at all times an ideology of ethnic grievance and
inevitably leads to and justifies ethnic conflict. All the nations that
have ever embraced it, from Yugoslavia to Lebanon, from Belgium
to Canada, have had to live with perpetual ethnic discord.

Kallen’s views, however, stop significantly short of contemporary
multiculturalism in their demands on the larger “native” American
society. For Kallen, cultural pluralism was a defensive strategy for
“unassimilable” immigrant ethnic groups that required no accom-
modation by the larger society. Contemporary multiculturalists, on
the other hand, by making cultural pluralism the basis of ethnic fed-
eralism, demand certain ethnic rights and concessions. By empha-
sizing the failure of assimilation, multiculturalists hope to provide
intellectual and political support for their policies.

Immigrants to the United
States should not
“melt” into a com-
mon national ethnic alloy.
The pluralistic defense of cultural diversity typical of Vico, Although both men challenged what was taken by most Animated by these somewhat contradictory ideals, cul- During the second half of the twentieth century, cultural
Herder, and James has grown more powerful in the mod- “Life can be seen through Anglo-Saxons to be the absolute truth regarding what it tural pluralism constituted a protean movement in the pluralist thought in the United States was increasingly
ern world as ethnic and racial groups within multiethnic
societies have increasingly sought to exercise political
many windows, meant to be an American, Bourne went well beyond Kal-
len’s demand for freedom defined simply as a private right
first half of the twentieth century in the United States.
Particularly important achievements include the efforts
eclipsed by the lingering commitment of liberal intellec-
tuals to the Marxist notion of culture as mere superstruc-
power and retain their cultural heritage in the face of none of them necessarily to be different. Influenced by the Enlightenment, Kal- of John Collier (1884–1968) as commissioner of Indian Af- ture or as determined by the more fundamental struggle
demands for cultural conformity. In the United States
the pragmatists Horace Meyer Kallen (1882–1974) and
clear or opaque, len assigned ethnicity to private life while he placed the
public world in the hands of technical experts. Bourne,
fairs during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt to
overturn the U.S. government’s policy of assimilation of
for power. Nevertheless, minority groups continue to
struggle to achieve cultural democracy in the early twen-
Randolph Silliman Bourne (1886–1918) supplied a spir- less or more distorting on the other hand, urged a national collaboration in the the American Indian. Due to Collier’s efforts, Native Amer- ty-first century’s multicultural societies. As the Canadian
ited defense of diversity during World War I. Although the
American political tradition of classical liberalism cham-
than any of the others.” construction of a new national culture by all racial and
ethnic groups in terms reminiscent of Herder. Contrarily
icans regained the right to their cultures, lands, and tribal
political institutions after decades of denial. The Harlem
philosopher Charles Taylor, following Herder, has argued,
being true to oneself requires an acknowledgment by
pioned individual rights, it failed to extend those rights to Sir Isaiah Berlin, “Winston Churchill in 1940,” in Personal Impressions, p. 4. then, Bourne’s freedom meant “a democratic coopera- Renaissance of the 1920s also reflected the principles of both self and other of the indispensable role of culture in
include the right to be culturally different. Liberal rights tion in determining the ideals and purposes and industrial cultural pluralism. Alain Leroy Locke (1886–1954), Amer- the creation of identity. Because culture imparts those
had wrongly assumed “that men are men merely, as like and social institutions of a country” (p. 252). Thus while ica’s first African-American Rhodes scholar and a former particular aspects—religion, language, traditions—that
as marbles and destined under uniformity of conditions Kallen’s vision served to strengthen the dominance of student of William James, furnished the guiding vision of make an individual or group unique, the forced assimila-
to uniformity of spirit,” Kallen wrote in “Democracy ver- experts in the public sphere of work and politics, Bourne the Renaissance and helped to achieve Bourne’s “beloved tion of minorities to the hegemonic standard of identity
sus the Melting Pot” (p. 193). The right to cultural identity called for a “Beloved Community” that placed democratic community.” Finding beauty within himself, through a re- by a majority group constitutes a form of oppression and
was essential to selfhood, however, and Kallen called for participation and a discussion of values at the very center birth of black art, the “new Negro” would thereby achieve violence of the spirit. This recognition has led in turn to
a “Federal republic,” a “democracy of nationalities, coop- of public life (p. 264). the moral dignity suited to a “collaborator and partici- efforts to expand the political theory of liberalism to in-
erating voluntarily and autonomously in the enterprise of pant in American civilization” (Locke, 1925, p. 5). Langs- clude not only a defense of identical universal rights but
self-realization through the perfection of men according ton Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude Mackay, Jean the right of groups to cultural differences as well. Cultural
to their kind” (p. 220). Toomer, and others awakened black pride and offered an pluralists therefore seek to supplant cultural monism or
aesthetically and spiritually barren industrial capitalist absolutism with pluralism by reconciling community with
Similarly Bourne’s 1916 essay “Transnational America” America African-American wisdom and beauty instead of diversity in the modern world.
reminded dominant Anglo-Saxons that even the early the ashes of materialism.
colonists “did not come to be assimilated in an American
melting-pot. They did not come to adopt the culture of the
American Indian” (p. 249). Bourne also called for a “cos-
mopolitan federation of national colonies” within which
ethnic groups “merge but they do not fuse” (pp. 258, 255).
Thus an immigrant would be both a Serb and an American
or both a German and an American , for example, as differ-
ence harmonized with common ground.
RA INBOW
COA LI TI ON
“We are more than a melting pot;
we are a kaleidoscope.”
The multiculturalists’ rejection of the melting pot idea is seen in
the metaphors they propose in its place. Civil rights activist Jesse
Jackson suggested that Americans are members of a “rainbow co-
alition.” Former New York Mayor David Dinkins saw his constituents
constituting a “gorgeous mosaic.” Former Congresswoman Shirley
Chisholm characterized America’s ethnic groups as being like ingre-
dients in a “salad bowl.” Barbara Jordan, recent chairperson of the
U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, said: “We are more than a
melting-pot; we are a kaleidoscope.”

These counter-metaphors all share a common premise: that ethnic
groups in the United States may live side by side harmoniously, but
on two conditions that overturn both assumptions of the melting-
pot metaphor. First, immigrants (and black Americans) should never
have to (or maybe should not even want to) give up any of their origi-
nal cultural attributes. And second, there never can or will be a single
unified national identity that all Americans can relate to. These two
principles are the foundations of cultural pluralism, the antithesis of
assimilationism.
Multiculturalism is the acceptance or promotion of multiple ethnic However, proponents of multicultural programs argue that social Advocates of multiculturalism counter these objections by claim- Other critics argue that multiculturalism leads directly to restric-
cultures, for practical reasons and/or for the sake of diversity and cohesion has too often been achieved either by explicit discrimina- ing that 1) the issue is not cultural relativism but the whitewashing tions in the rights and freedoms for certain groups and that as such,
applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, usually at tion against cultural minority groups, for example, laws that restrict of history, i.e., that history has been written to play up the contribu- it is bad for democracy, undemocratic and against universal human
the organizational level, e.g. schools, businesses, neighborhoods, the freedoms of certain groups, or by an implicit discrimination tions of the dominant group and to downplay the, often significant, rights. For instance, Susan Moller Okin wrote about this question in
cities or nations. In this context, multiculturalists advocate extend- which rejects other cultural forms as being without value, for ex- contributions of minority groups; 2) with regards to cultural/artis- her essay “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” (1999).
ing equitable status to distinct ethnic and religious groups without ample, school programs that never teach the historic and artistic tic contributions, the claim that minority culture is inferior is often
promoting any specific ethnic, religious, and/or cultural community contributions of minorities. based less on aesthetic quality than on politically-motivated cri- Harvard professor of political science Robert D. Putnam conducted
values as central. teria; 3) the issue is often not legal equality but simply recognition a nearly decade long study how multiculturalism affects social trust.
Critics of multiculturalism often charge multiculturalists with prac- that minorities do exist in the culture; and 4) many minority groups [5] He surveyed 26,200 people in 40 American communities, finding
Some countries have official policies of multiculturalism aimed at ticing cultural relativism such as judging customs and practices of did not immigrate but were either imported or previously living on that when the data were adjusted for class, income and other fac-
promoting social cohesion by recognizing distinct groups within a other cultures in their contexts, often confusing this with moral rel- the land. tors, the more racially diverse a community is, the greater the loss
society and allowing those groups to celebrate and maintain their ativism (lack of an idea of right and wrong), and they emphasize that of trust. People in diverse communities “don’t trust the local mayor,
cultures or cultural identities. Many critics of deliberated, govern- not all cultural values and practices must be held in equal regard in Criticism of multiculturalism often debates whether the multicul- they don’t trust the local paper, they don’t trust other people and
ment-instituted policies believe they artificially perpetuate social every given society. They warn against special treatment that might tural ideal of benignly co-existing cultures that interrelate and in- they don’t trust institutions,” writes Putnam.
divisions, damaging the social cohesion of the nation-state. violate the principal of equality before the law, and emphasize that fluence one another, and yet remain distinct, is sustainable, para-
citizenship denotes an tacit agreement to abide by the laws, cus- doxical or even desirable. Nation states that, in the case of many
toms and accepted value system of nation, especially in regards European nations, would previously have been synonymous with a
to those who chose to emigrate from abroad to join their newly ad- distinctive cultural identity of their own, lose out to enforced mul-
opted society. ticulturalism and that this ultimately erodes the host nations dis-
tinct culture.
While all these metaphors—including the melting pot—are

A CROS S THE
colorful ways of representing assimilation, they don’t go far
in giving one an accurate understanding of what assimila-
tion is really about. For example, across the ideological
spectrum, they all invoke some external, impersonal as-
similating agent. Who, exactly, is the “great alchemist” of the
melting pot? What force tosses the salad or pieces together
the mosaic? By picturing assimilation as an impersonal, au-

IDEOLOGI CAL
tomatic process and thus placing it beyond analysis, the
metaphors fail to illuminate its most important secrets. As-
similation, if it is to succeed, must be a voluntary process,
by both the assimilating immigrants and the assimilated-to
natives. Assimilation is a human accommodation, not a me-
chanical production.

The metaphors also mislead as to the purposes of assimi-

SPECTRUM
lation. The melting pot is supposed to turn out an undif-
ferentiated alloy—a uniform, ethnically neutral, American
protoperson. Critics have long pointed out that this idea is
far-fetched. But is it even desirable? And if it is desirable,
does it really foster a shared national identity? The greatest
failing of the melting-pot metaphor is that it overreaches.
It exaggerates the degree to which immigrants’ ethnicity is

By being too compelling,
likely to be extinguished by exposure to American society
and it exaggerates the need to extinguish ethnicity. By being
too compelling, too idealistic, the melting-pot idea has inad-

too idealistic,
vertently helped to discredit the very assimilation paradigm
it was meant to celebrate.

the melting-pot idea has inadvertently On the other hand, behind their unexceptionable blandness,
the antithetical cultural pluralist metaphors are profoundly

helped to discredit the very assimilation
insidious. By suggesting that the product of assimilation is
mere ethnic coexistence without integration, they under-
mine the objectives of assimilation, even if they appear more

paradigm it was meant to celebrate.
realistic. Is assimilation only about diverse ethnic groups
sharing the same national space? That much can be said
for any multiethnic society. If the ethnic greens of the salad
or the fragments of the mosaic do not interact and identify
with each other, no meaningful assimilation is taking place.
Melting Pot came under fire when it became apparent that the This criticism that the melting pot produces a society that primar- However, it is vital to recognize that coercive assimilation theorists On the other hand, multiculturalism has its own set of weak points
mainstream public had no intention of “melting” with certain “other” ily reflects the dominant culture instead of fusing into a completely often do not support the idea that immigrants should maintain dis- that need further evaluation and revision. The melting pot and the
races and cultures. Subsequently, American immigration policies new entity is reiterated by other sociologists, anthropologists, and tinct cultural attributes. In the modern-day discussion, coercive tossed salad metaphors are both inherently flawed, at least sofar
became restrictive based on race, an example of state sponsored cultural geographers as “Anglo-conformity” (Kivisto 151). This type assimilation theories often take on a decidedly racist overtone in their practical application. On this, there are many social theo-
racism intended towards reducing the diversity of the melting pot of assimilation was seen as working like a one-way street and it was (Laubeova), with many assimilation proponents urging Americentric rists who are writing about a compromise between the melting pot
(Laubeová). Much has been written about the so-called “myth” of viewed as something that depended primarily on the cooperative- policies such as English-only education, strict immigration policies, approach and the tossed salad analogy. One such new theory is the
the melting pot theory (Frey; Booth). However, the metaphor has ness of immigrants to be reoriented towards the dominant culture. stipulations of nationalistic criteria for citizenship, and eliminating aforementioned “ethnic stew” from Laura Laubeova, who hopes
persisted and epitomizes what some Americans see as an ideal The idea that the dominant culture would be infused with new en- programs aimed at helping minorities (Booth; Hayworth). This issue that such an analogy can help bridge the gap between the two con-
model for this country. ergy through the influences of ethnic groups retaining their distinc- over terminology and social metaphors is vitally important because cepts to create “a sort of pan-Hungarian goulash where the pieces
tive cultural attributes and thereby forging a new, stronger America America stands at a critical ideological turning point. Cultural ge- of different kinds of meat still keep their solid structure.” Indeed,
The melting pot theory, also referred to as cultural assimilation, re- due to their divergent cultural contributions was not given much ographers describe our current society as experiencing a “multicul- some sort of compromise between full assimilation and multicul-
volves around the analogy that “the ingredients in the pot (people weight by early researchers (Kivisto 152-154). tural backlash” that will drastically affect immigration legislation turalism will be necessary to retain our multiethnic flavour while
of different cultures and religions) are combined so as to lose their and ethnic studies and possibly lead us towards a more restrictive building a cohesive society.
discrete identities and yield a final product of uniform consistency It should be noted in this discussion that earlier in American soci- and intolerant nation (Mitchell 641). The current discourse about
and flavor, which is quite different from the original inputs.” This ology history, some of these terms took on distinctly different fla- cultural assimilation seeks to relegate incongruent cultural attri-
idea differs from other analogies, particularly the salad bowl anal- vours. This ambiguity of terminology contributes to confusion in the butes to the private arena so as not to disturb the dominant society
ogy where the ingredients are encouraged to retain their cultural current discourse. For instance, in 1901, Sarah Simons is quoted as (Mitchell 642), and instead of promoting a tolerance of diversity, we
identities, thus retaining their “integrity and flavor” while contrib- making this conclusion with regards to assimilation: see the modern-day assimilation proponents urging strict depor-
uting to a tasty and nutritious salad. Yet another food analogy is In brief, the function of assimilation is the establishment of homo- tation and increasingly restrictive immigration policies in order to
that of the ethnic stew, where there is a level of compromise be- geneity within the group; but this does not mean that all variation protect socalled American values (Hayworth). The stance of many
tween integration and cultural distinctiveness. shall be crushed out. In vital matters, such as language, ideals of coercive assimilation proponents smacks of racist overtones and is
government, law, and education, uniformity shall prevail; in per- based on apprehension of “others” and exclusionary thinking more
What these food analogies have in common is an appreciation that sonal matters of religion and habits of life, however, individuality than it is based on preservation of core values.
each of these ethnicities has something to contribute to the society shall be allowed free play. Thus, the spread of “consciousness of
as a whole. By comparing ethnic and/or cultural groups to ingredi- kind” must be accompanied by the spread of consciousness of indi- The implications of this type of proposed legislation drives fear into
ents in a recipe, we start with the assumption that each ingredient viduality (qtd. in Kivsito 153). minority groups seeking to preserve their cultural heritage against
is important and the final product would not be the same if some a tide of Americentric propaganda. Ultimately, those seeking to en-
distinct ingredient were missing. However, in the melting pot anal- Furthermore, according to Peter Kivisto’s interpretation of Chicago act coercive assimilation policies threaten to fracture the common
ogy, this premise is the least apparent and can be criticized for its School sociologist Robert E. Park’s writings on the subject, theories ground of the American dream that they claim to be focused on pro-
dismissively simplistic social theories. This is one appropriate eval- on assimilation originally differed from the melting pot fusion theo- tecting. Minority groups are nearing such numbers in this country
uation of the weaknesses of the melting pot and the tossed salad ry in that assimilation “signals the proliferation of diversity. Rather that it is projected that the word “minority” will soon become ob-
analogies: than enforced conformity, it makes possible a greater degree of solete. Enacting exclusionary policies will only fracture an already
In the case of the melting pot the aim is that all cultures become re- individual autonomy” and creates “a cultural climate that is predi- delicate social framework and potentially further disenfranchise
flected in one common culture, however this is generally the culture cated by pluralism” whereby this “cultural pluralism (or multicultur- the very groups America needs for inclusive unity.
of the dominant group - I thought this was mixed vegetable soup alism) can coexist with assimilation” (156-157). The idea that a mul-
but I can only taste tomato. In the case of the salad bowl, cultural tiethnic society could attain an interdependent cohesion based on
groups should exist separately and maintain their practices and in- national solidarity while maintaining distinct cultural histories not
stitutions, however, Where is the dressing to cover it all? dependent on like-minded homogeneity was thus proposed back in
the early 1900’s (Kivisto 161).

The bottom line is that people are people, not food. Despite the va-
riety of food metaphors at our disposal, the power of this rhetoric is
limited and wears thin during pragmatic application. Food meta-
phors 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 redefines
America’s objective for a multiethnic society that allows for diver-
sity, 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 so-
cial 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 Zang-
will called “a fusion of all races” remains to be seen (Zangwill). Right
now, what America needs is a definitive social direction that leans
away from coercive assimilation dogma and towards a truly inclu-
sive national identity. True American dreamers should not settle for
anything less.
NOT A SINGLE EVENT
EVENT BUT
A PROCESS
Perhaps a new assimilation metaphor should be introduced— In the end, however, no metaphor can do justice to the achieve-
one that depends not on a mechanical process like the melting ments and principles of assimilation, American style. As numer-
pot but on human dynamics. Assimilation might be viewed as ous sociologists have shown, assimilation is not a single event,
more akin to religious conversion than anything else. In the terms but a process. In 1930 Robert Park observed, “Assimilation is the
of this metaphor, the immigrant is the convert, American society name given to the process or processes by which peoples of di-

“long-term processes that have whittled away
is the religious order being joined, and assimilation is the process verse racial origins and different cultural heritages, occupying a
by which the conversion takes place. Just as there are many mo- common territory, achieve a cultural solidarity sufficient at least
tives for people to immigrate, so are there many motives for them to sustain a national existence.” More recently, Richard Alba de-
to change their religion: spiritual, practical (marrying a person
of another faith), and materialistic (joining some churches can
fined assimilation as “long-term processes that have whittled
away at the social foundations of ethnic distinctions.” But as-
at the social foundations of
ethnic distinctions.”
lead to jobs or subsidized housing). But whatever the motivation, similation is more complex than that because it is a process of
conversion usually involves the consistent application of certain numerous dimensions. Not all immigrants and ethnic groups as-
principles. Conversion is a mutual decision requiring affirma- similate in exactly the same way or at the same speed.
tion by both the convert and the religious order he or she wishes
to join. Converts are expected in most (but not all) cases to re-
nounce their old religions. But converts do not have to change
their behavior in any respects other than those that relate to the
new religion. They are expected only to believe in its theological
principles, observe its rituals and holidays, and live by its moral
precepts. Beyond that, they can be rich or poor, practice any
trade, pursue any avocational interests, and have any racial or
other personal attributes. Once they undergo conversion, they
are eagerly welcomed into the fellowship of believers. They have
become part of “us” rather than “them.” This is undoubtedly what
writer G.K. Chesterton had in mind when he said: “America is a
nation with the soul of a church.”
In Assimilation in American Life (1964), Milton Gordon suggested
that there is a typology, or hierarchy, of assimilation, thus capturing
some of the key steps that immigrants and ethnic groups go through
as their assimilation--their cultural solidarity with native-born
Americans, in Park’s words--becomes more complete.

First, and perhaps foremost, natives and immigrants must accord
each other legitimacy. That is, each group must believe the other
has a legitimate right to be in the United States and that its mem-
bers are entitled to pursue, by all legal means, their livelihood and
happiness as they see fit. Second, immigrants must have com-
petence to function effectively in American workplaces and in all
the normal American social settings. Immigrants are expected to
seize economic opportunities and to participate, at some level, in
the social life of American society, and natives must not get in their
way. Third, immigrants must be encouraged to exercise civic re-
sponsibility, minimally by being law-abiding members of American
society, respectful of their fellow citizens, and optimally as active
participants in the political process. Fourth, and most essential,
immigrants must identify themselves as Americans, placing that
identification ahead of any associated with their birthplace or eth-
nic homeland, and their willingness to do so must be reciprocated
by the warm embrace of native Americans.

The speed and thoroughness with which individual immigrants con-
form to these criteria vary, but each dimension is critical and inter-
dependent with the others. The absence of legitimacy breeds ethnic
conflict between natives and immigrants and among members of
different ethnic groups. The absence of competence keeps im-
migrants from being economically and socially integrated into the
larger society and breeds alienation among the immigrants and re-
sentment of their dependence among natives. The absence of civic
responsibility keeps immigrants from being involved in many cru-
cial decisions that affect their lives and further contributes to their
alienation. Having immigrants identify as Americans is, of course,
the whole point of assimilation, but such identification depends
heavily on the fulfillment of the other three criteria.