Many minorities in the United States grow up with the idea that the ‘melting pot’, mentioned in many textbooks and historical references, was a good thing- the romantic and exotic idea that America was made up of so many cultures that came together in harmony to create a magical and wondrous land- a place where pink elephants, chocolate rivers, and gum drop rainbows were reality. Some Americans argue that this way of life is still available in America. Others will say that it has never existed. What is certain is that the differences in cultures have created a culture clash that is more subtle today than it was in the past. On the flip side, the differences have also created a more tolerant, diverse, and interesting America that is redefining what a true American is like today, and what that true American will be like in the future.
The ‘melting pot’ idea sought to teach immigrants and Americans that the assimilation of European culture i.e. stripping oneself of her/his native cultural customs was the way to societal balance and harmony. The theory made some sort of sense in that common thoughts, customs and ideas can often create synergy and peace among people. Unfortunately, American history has proven that it also causes group think. Group think in America paved the way to many life-altering injustices, and the stripping away of an individual’s true identity and culture.
The mid 1800’s to the early 1900’s brought on an influx of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and more Mexican immigrants to coastal states such as California and New York, and South and Midwest states such as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. In San Francisco and Topeka the construction of railroad tracks employed incoming immigrants. They worked in agriculture, as farmhands, general laborers building roads, and as construction workers in other states. This immigration created a whole new demographic of people. Each cultural group created their own neighborhoods and businesses to serve the needs of their own community. They patronized culturally centric establishments partially because of the sense of familiarity, and mainly because they were turned away from establishments of the majority and ruling culture. Being shunned by the very society America’s immigrants were helping build, immigrants were forced into being as European/American as possible.
Immigrants were attempting to dress as the Americans did, eat like them, and even went so far as to remove all physical trace of customs, traditions, and language in order to fit in. They also went as far as shunning other immigrants that maintained any part of their culture for fear of persecution by the dominant culture. Immigrants were not only losing their culture and identity, they were also losing their lives because of who they were. Each new decade after the turn of the century in the 1900’s produced a new stepping stone for immigrants and their offspring.
Immigrants that ‘…did as the Romans did’ and dared not buck the system, often did well for themselves and lived fairly comfortable. They lost their individual identities, but a better life was the tradeoff. Those immigrants that fought to keep their cultural identities often ended up losing their lives, but left something very important behind. They left immigrants and their offspring something called cultural pluralism.
One definition of cultural pluralism is ‘A condition in which minority groups participate fully in the dominant society, yet maintain their cultural differences.’ Another definition, ‘A model based on the premise that people of all backgrounds have a right to maintain their languages and cultures while combining with others to form a new society reflective of all our differences.’ This model is something that many minority cultures have not even heard of. Why? Even though it is a fundamental immigrant right to maintain one’s own culture, as the Europeans did when they first arrived in America, the dominant culture did not allow it to occur naturally and peacefully among other cultures. As time went on however, there were several individuals in the dominant culture that assisted minority cultures in achieving their dream of cultural pluralism.
Admirable human beings such as Lyndon B. Johnson and Stetson Kennedy among several other anonymous European Americans, assisted in creating a path for cultural pluralism. It allowed for Americans of all cultural backgrounds to keep their customs, traditions, language and even their natural hair color! Unfortunately, the globe associated Americans as being blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Cultural Pluralism places many different colors of hair and eyes on a true ‘red-blooded Americans’.
In addition to varied hair and eye color, being American also means speaking several languages, cooking colorful foods and having the right to dress in the way your ancestors did back in your native country. Cultural pluralism advocates that it’s great for a Mexican person, to sit at a Cuban/Chinese restaurant while enjoying the company of her/his Eastern Indian, Arabic, African-American and European-American friends. This type of ‘diversity freedom’ so to speak, has spawned several hugely successful industries and trends in America.
In the restaurant industry fusion food has thrived and evolved into a very exciting art-form of cooking in the United States. Cuban/Chinese, Chinese/Mongolian, Lebanese/American, Mexican/Japanese and Vietnamese/French are some of the taste bud teasing, fused cuisines that exist today. The best chefs around the world have experimented with fusing one ethnic cuisine with another at some point in their careers, or made a very good living from creating such art. Daniel Boulud , Thomas Keller , and Emeril Lagasse are among some of the masters.
In call centers all across the country, at least the ones that have survived outsourcing, customer service representatives from every ethnic background and linguistic skill assist a multicultural client base in need of the same services as their European American counterparts. The sea of representatives speaking in languages such as Arabic, Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish just to name a few, is admirable and not easily found in many countries. It is mind-boggling to understand how such a display of intelligence and vision could be suppressed historically. Lunch time for these reps is an aromatic and colorful display of ethnic, homemade dishes that are commonly shared among the employees. The dominant or majority culture too shares this love for ethnic culture and cuisine. Where do all these ethnic enthusiasts buy all of these enticing items?
Stores like the Aldi’s grocery store chain in Kansas and Missouri, headquartered in Germany, Cost Plus World Market headquartered in California, Pier One Imports headquartered in Texas, and grocery store Trader Joe’s also headquartered in California are a few of the companies that found a niche market serving a very unique shopper. This shopper has traveled some and wants to find similar products found internationally, in the U.S. This shopper may also be from another country such as Africa, Asia or Brazil and can find products that are close to what the shopper is accustomed to and prefers. A patron of these establishments could also be a person who simply loves the presence of fascinating products in her/his everyday life.
There are so many benefits associated with cultural pluralism. We can clearly see that it adds so much spice, energy, creativity and wild colors to what was once, a very black and white world. When all colors of the spectrum are present and allowed to shine and flourish, we create a societal rain forest of sorts where medicine for the soul is found. It is a societal rainforest where people enjoy each other and grow spiritually like lush, green, healthy vegetation.
America was, and continues to be, a beautiful and unique country that like an Ambrosia salad contains all sorts of interesting and exciting ingredients. Our history like any other country around the globe has both good and bad moments that we can be proud or ashamed of. Today in a culturally diverse United States, Americans can agree that being American is not being of any one cultural heritage, social, or financial background. As diverse as America’s geography is with its raging west coast ocean, hot and mysterious desert, snowcapped rocky mountains, rugged tundra, bustling cities, and Caribbean sea and sand, so too should the people reflect this phenomenon we proudly call the United States of America. Keep cultural pluralism alive!