Integral to the history and existence of the United States of America is the national desire to build a united nation that is free of discrimination and prejudice. At some point, the country was hailed as the home and nation of immigrants (Smith 387). The terms melting pot and salad bowl were both acceptably employed in reference to the country’s cultural diversity. However, a debate arose in the context of this multi-cultural diversity with some people supporting the idea that immigrants ought to be assimilated into the American society to form a melting pot (metaphorical) and others arguing that they (immigrants) should keep and hold onto their previous cultures so that consequently America becomes a salad bowl. Ever since it was triggered, this debate has attracted the attention of commentators (laymen and scholars alike) thus yielding boisterous opinions. As such, America remains a divided nation in regard to immigration policies as well as the preservation of cultural heritage. This was recently evidenced when Donald Trump, the new president, issued and signed an executive order barring immigrants from selected Muslim countries. In the context of the melting pot and salad bowl debate, this paper examines the views of both camps and concludes that the salad bowl narrative is better for America.
How Does Multiculturalism Bring Together the Melting Pot and the Salad Bowl Theories?
As already implied, the cultural mosaic or salad bowl theory puts forth that immigrants of diverse cultural backgrounds should be combined but still retain their original cultures (and thus be different from one another) just like a bowl of salad that has different ingredients. This is in opposition to the melting pot, the traditional notion of achieving cultural assimilation by doing away with original identities and forging ahead as a new uniform identity. In the salad bowl context, the resultant society is not homogenous as immigrants do not desert their old cultures. Some choose to hold onto their old culture and end up living in their own worlds, what Mata refers to as ethnic enclaves (7). A dilemma that every immigrant faces is whether to be assimilated into the new world or maintain his or her original culture in a society shaped, in many ways, by multiculturalism.
Difference Between Melting Pot Theory and Salad Bowl Theory
The melting pot is a typical representation of the Americanization process and it has for a long time been the official (government policy). Entirely dismissing the melting pot would seem unreasonable as the American nation was founded upon it; the founders of the nation were themselves immigrants who came from Europe (Wong 8). They might have been white Christians but they were of diverse ethnicities. The earliest immigrants knew and appreciated the rapidly growing and intensifying ethnic and cultural diversity of Americans at that time so they were inclined to establish policies that would guarantee not only the well-being and unity of the nation but also its future. Defense for the melting pot concept in this regard is rooted in the argument that a homogenous community is needed if nation-building is to be successful. The founders understood that there was no such thing as an American nation at that time, but one would emerge gradually. The melting pot policy was at the center of public actions and policies as it was believed Americanization held the key to the future of American democracy, unity, and the economy. It was imperative to facilitate the assimilation (more precisely Americanization) of new migrants as quickly and easily as possible. The founders (Calvinist Puritans) believed they were God’s chosen people and that all other people coming to America had to adapt their way of life.
Indeed, the concept of the melting pot seems attractive since by forging one identity, America will continue on its historical path of progress. In as much as it has differently served various groups (for instance non-Europeans and non-whites) during different times in history, it is a good recipe for democracy, national unity, and progress. As the saying goes, unity is power. In fact, what has always made America stronger is the belief that anyone can go to America and become American. Focusing on cultural differences and the ethnicities that characterize the American society would only bring divisions in the American nation.
Interestingly, the concept of the salad bowl has more often than not appeared more attractive than the melting pot. According to Cho, the melting pot is no longer convenient for understanding cultural and ethnic diversity in America (5). While it has been fronted as a better metaphor representing immigrant assimilation and contextual ethnic interactions, the melting pot metaphor has nevertheless retained ground. Proponents of the salad bowl argue that as opposed to doing away with original cultures to embrace a new common identity, every culture should be appreciated and preserved as each (culture) is indeed valuable. The number of people belonging to a given culture does not matter, the point is to appreciate each culture. There is no culture that is inferior or superior to others. Cultures and ethnicities should not be the reason people cannot achieve their dreams, a good example being Alvarez who could not become Miss America because of the social exclusion based on her race (Alvarez 61). In this regard, every culture has a solution to offer to the problems facing humanity at large and American society in particular.
As opposed to assimilation, efforts should be made to appreciate and celebrate every culture. To become American does not necessarily require one to give up his or her ethnicity or culture. Unity can be achieved if people can successfully draw or what makes them different while holding onto the common values that make Americans unique. In celebrating cultural diversity, it is better to take the salad bowl path as it is more humane. Is it not true that a person gives up a big part of him/herself when he or she gives up their original culture? Just to refer to a salad in a bowl, it tastes even better when extra ingredients are added. People should not give up their ethnicity and culture as unity can be better achieved by holding onto the core principles that define and guide American society. These principles and values are contained in the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. There would be nothing wrong if America continues to be a land of diverse cultures, ethnicities, and languages. The melting pot may have its own merits but such could be achieved through means that do not necessarily require people to give up their cultures and ethnicities. The diversity that the salad bowl accommodates presents the society with better opportunities to build social capital and development since each culture is unique and valuable in its own way.
Cho, Nancy. Staging Ethnicity in Contemporary American Drama. Diss. University of Michigan, USA, 1995.Alvarez, Julia. Something to Declare: Essays. Chapel Hill, N.C: Algonquin Of Chapel Hill, 2014. Print.
Mata, Irene. Re-thinking the Immigrant Narrative in a Global Perspective: Representations of Labor, Gender and immigration in Contemporary Cultural Productions. Diss. University of California, San Diego, 2007.
Smith, David, M. The American melting pot: A national myth in public and popular discourse. National Identities, Vol. 14, No. 4(2012), 387-402.
Wong, Angi, M. Goodbye melting pot, hello salad bowl. Chine American Forum, Vol. 5, No. 1(1989), 8.
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