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I. History, approaches
“What then is the American, this new man? He is neither an European nor a descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country… a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans and Swedes. …In America individuals are melted into a new race of men” (Crevecoeur, “Letters from an American Farmer”, 1782)
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (Emma Lazarus’ words on the Statue of Liberty)
“There she lies, the great Melting Pot – listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There she gapes her mouth – the harbour where a thousand mammoth feeders come from the ends of the world to put in their freight. Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian – black and yellow -…what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem where all nations come to worship and look back, compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward.” ( Israel Zangwill, The Melting Pot, 1908)
The immigrants in the words of the poet thomas Bailey Aldrich were a “wild and motley throng’ carrying to America ‘unknown Gods and rights …tiger passions…strange tongues’ and accounts of menace alien to our air’. ‘O liberty, white Goddess, - asked Aldrich- is it well to leave the gates unguarded ?’ (1892)
“The school” was promoted as “the melting pot of the nation, where Americanism is molded and formed, the great factor of our national life. Our whole fabric and national idea is here inculcated in the heart and mind of young America, its history, customs, its laws and language” (The Americanisation Department, Circular Letter, October 1918)
“We do not want to be pushed into the mainstream of American life…any help for Indian people must take cultural values into consideration” (Melvin Thom, president of Native Indian Youth Council, 1964)
“A substantial proportion of these new persons and their descendants do not assimilate into our society…. If language and cultural separation rise above a ceratin level, the unity and political stability of our nation will - in time – be seriously eroded.” (Senator of Wyoming 1981)
Theories of ethnicity and assimilation
- the melting pot
- the Anglo – conformity
- the federation of nationalities
- cultural pluralism (Germany my mother, America my bride)
“Ethnicity can be defined as a collective, inherited cultural identity, buttressed by social structures and social networks, and often formulated in opposition to competing social groups…ethnicity is a collective phenomenon, a ‘we’ feeling… An ethnic group is a collectivity united by a sense of common origin.” (Kantowich)
Sollors – Beyond Ethnicity: Conset and Descent in American Culture
Ethnicity in contemporary America is a ‘pluralist, multidimensional, or multifaceted concept of self…ethnicity is a process of intereference between two or more cultural traditions’ (Fischer 1986)
II. Ethnic literature
“So there was our promised land, and many faces turned towards the West. And if the waters of the Atlantic did not part for them, the wanderers rode its bitter flood by a miracle as great as any rod of Moses ever wrought” (Mary Antin, The Promised Land, 1912)
“Even now China wraps double binds around my feet”
“All the time I was having to turn myself American-feminine, or no dates.”
“…our Chinatown tasks me with the old sayings and stories” (Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior)
“ I remember being sent to the corner of the classroom for talking back to the Anglo teacher when all I was trying to do was tell her how to pronounce my name. ‘If you want to be American, speak ‘American’. If you don’t like it, go back to Mexico where you belong.”
“At Pan American University, I and all Chicano students were required to take two speech classes to get rid of our accents.” (Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera)
For Mukherjee America is a place where she can choose “to discard that part of history that I want and invent a whole new history for myself”. (3103 Heath)
III Ethnicity after September 11
“In the wake of the unspeakable horrors of September 11, signs have emerged of a lesser casualty: multiculturalism. In recent years the American melting pot turned from pressure cooker to salad bowl as more and more visible minorities preserved their right to be identifiably different while procclaiming their assimilation into the American Dream. Citizens no longer needed to have color, creed, costume or custom in common. Americans grew used to sharing their streets with men in flowing beard and turbans and women covered from head to toe; mosques and temples sprouted like organic plants across the land. It was all part of the new multiethnic mosaic called America.
No more. Public hostility to the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks – browned skinned Muslims - has transformed difference into diffidence.” (Tharoor, “Brown in America”, Newsweek, October 29, 2001)
“Native born Americans don’t understand an immigrant’s love of country. “After all… what did you do to become an American, other than happen to be born there?” For us immigrants, becoming American was a choice marked by sorrowful partings and tough new beginnings.” (Zakaria, “An Immigrant’s Faith”, Newsweek, Special Issue, October 2001
“…how do they (Arab-Americans) show both their patriotism and their ethnic pride?” (Newsweek, September 24, 2001)
“Estrangement. Incomprehension. Schrizophrenia. As an Arab journalist in America, I have lived a deeply divided life since terror struck down the twin towers. An I fear the consequences, for me and my two peoples, Arabs and Americans.
I was born in Beirut but New York is my home by choice. For 25 years, as a reporter and student of American-Arab relations, I’ve played the role of cultural interpreter, attempting to explain each side to the other. There has always been a profound disconnection, a deep mutual suspicion and lack of trust. Now the rift is almost incalculably large”. (Derghan, “Divided Lives”, Newsweek, October 15, 2001)
Cultural assimilation or acculturation means adopting the language, customs, patterns of consumption, values, norms and belief systems of the host society.
Americanization - strict adherence to the values of the cultural majority in such key areas such as language, religion and manners.
ethnification – assertion of difference as a form of empowerment
melting pot – you cannot recognize the original ingredients
salad bowl –maintaining much of the ethnic identity
pizza – the different igredients are often aparent and each give the whole its particular taste and falvor, and yet all are fused together.