The United States has been a home for immigrants since 1587, when English colonists landed on Roanoke Island and formed a settlement. Since then, individuals from nearly every part of the world have found their way to the United States in search of a better way of life for themselves and their families. In 1907, Rabbi Samuel Schulman used the term “melting pot” to describe the assimilation of immigrants to a new way of life in America.
The country was indeed a melting pot as the majority of immigrants gave up many of their traditions and languages in order to blend in with their new society; today, the United States is still a melting pot, including more nationalities every year. Some groups, however, refuse to assimilate to the American way of life, and this is referred to as the “salad” example – many different components that never blend in with each other. In the United States, those who do not assimilate do not thrive.
The United States forces a melting pot mentality by making it difficult for groups to remain separate. Even though there is no established national language, many states have declared English as the official language. This allows the states to refuse to teach children in any language other than English, and to require that government documents be written in English only. Students who do not speak English are placed in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in order to learn the language. They are encouraged to speak English both at school and at home.
Therefore, children are forced into the melting pot rather than the salad. There are groups who have consistently refused to adopt an American way of life; these groups are generally ostracized by the rest of society. An example of this separateness is the Amish community. In spite of the technological advances that have made life easier, the Amish reject these luxuries, instead opting for an electricity-free way of life in which they dress conservatively, drive a horse and buggy, and require their children to drop out of school after the eighth grade.
The Amish do make one concession – at the age of sixteen, they are permitted to leave the Amish community, to explore the typical American way of life, and to decide for themselves whether to remain Amish or reject it in order to become a part of the larger society. The Amish, too, represent the power of the melting pot. Television shows have always been dominated by Caucasians; while there are characters of many other ethnicities on television, shows that feature non-whites prominently are rarely shown on the major networks, NBC, ABC and CBS.
Rather, they are mainly featured on networks such as Fox and the WB. The one exception to this rule was “The George Lopez Show”, which was featured on ABC for six seasons (ending in 2007). Lopez was a popular comedian in the 1990’s; this popularity translated into a television show. Other non-white personalities, however, are still relegated to the minor television stations. By broadcasting television shows that feature mostly whites in major roles and a few non-whites in comparable roles, television has become its own melting pot.
The news media has its own way of including non-whites as reporters. While non-white journalists such as Connie Chung have earned respected positions within the news community, they do so at a price. Chung does not refer to her Chinese heritage; in addition, she is married to Maury Povich (a white man). News anchors that are not white do not represent their individual communities. They do not speak in a local dialect or slang, wear traditional clothing, or indicate their heritage in any way.
Instead, they make an effort to blend in with the Caucasian reporters and viewers. An example of this phenomenon is Mia Lee, an Asian California news anchor, who traded her dark hair for blonde tresses and has clearly had plastic surgery to transform her Asian features to appear Caucasian, to the horror of many viewers. The film industry tends to avoid making films about immigrant groups who refuse to assimilate; instead, they show the experience of immigrants coming to America and adapting to a new way of life.
An example of this struggle was shown in “Far and Away”, which featured Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as Irish immigrants who come to America in search of land – a luxury they would never have in their native Ireland. By the end of the film, they adapt to the culture and as a result, thrive. In 2004, the film “A Day Without a Mexican” showed the contributions of Latinos to society through a “mockumentary” format in which all of the Mexicans magically and mysteriously disappear.
Faced with the challenge of mowing their own lawns, growing and picking produce and doing the menial tasks of dishwashers, busboys and maids, the Caucasians eventually realize their error of their ways and welcome the Mexicans back with open arms. This is one of the few films ever to show the separateness of one group of immigrants. It also showed that immigrants who do not assimilate are forced into menial jobs.
In conclusion, America’s melting pot has advantages and disadvantages. Those who conform are welcomed into society and have opportunities to become educated, successful, and comfortable. They must trade their culture, values and language for this comfort. The problem is that any group that refuses to conform are excluded from society and considered outcasts. The rule of the melting pot is that the majority rules and the minorities must adapt or remain second-class citizens.