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Assimilation And Diversity In America-Salad Bowl Melting Pot Or Tomato Soup?

Updated on January 25, 2017

Because the United States has traditionally been the "Land of Opportunity" it continues to lead the world in the number of immigrants each year. Despite recent economic downturns, it is still considered to be a nation where religious and social freedoms along with economic opportunity are ranked highest in the world.

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty says:

"Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

However, a glance back in history reveals that humanitarian reasons may not have always been foremost in our forefathers minds concerning immigration.

In the period of history before the American Revolution, immigrants that could weather hardship, hunger and disease long enough to make the long, arduous journey were welcomed through the Golden Door. They entered free of restrictions, other than that of being deemed a public criminal. Early Colonists, new to the land themselves, were not anxious to rehabilitate any maladjusted citizens. Unregulated immigration was tolerated for some time because people were needed to help build up the labor force of a new nation. It was during this period in history that the slave trade was to begin with the importing of Africans against their will to the colonies.

"Give me your tired Your Poor, Your huddled masses yearning to be free."
"Give me your tired Your Poor, Your huddled masses yearning to be free." | Source

Old and New Immigrants

Historians have long debated who the first Americans were with theories ranging from wanderers from North East Asia,of whom fathered what we today consider Native Americans, to settlers from Polynesia, South Asia, Europe. The continental structure of the earth is thought to have been different with crossings possible that would not be so today without modern transportation. However we do know that about the year 1000 a number of Vikings appeared that would proceed a great European migration 500 years later.

The first colonists from Europe came so with the notion of creating a nation of free and independent people, free from unfair taxes and religious restrictions. The term Pilgrim was applied to these early colonist, as their voyage was considered a Pilgrimage. Later on, the Great Migration populated New England with 21,000 immigrants from Northern Europe during the mid 17th century (1630-40). These immigrants had the same Anglo-Saxon roots as the early colonists

The Federal Government's power to regulate immigration was unclear in early America. As the race and ethnicity of immigrants changed so did the attitudes of the Colonists change toward unrestricted immigration. In 1751 Benjamin Franklin expressed concern over the number of immigrants from Germany stating that "This Pennsylvania will in a few years become a German colony; instead of {their} learning our language, we must learn theirs, or live in a foreign country."

After the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, America entered an Open Door era. Immigrates that stayed for 5 years and renounced all former allegiances were granted citizenship through the Naturalization Act of 1795. The Immigration Boom began. Ellis Island would welcome immigrants on the East coast and Angel Island would welcome them on the west. After the War of 1812, travel across the sea without fear became possible again. Ten million immigrants, mostly British, Irish and German entered the U.S. The states began a regulation era for immigrants. Laws were passed to teach English to school Children.

Failed revolutions in Europe caused massive immigration to begin. Treaties that ended the Mexican-American war gave Mexicans permission to remain in those territories.They were seriously discriminated against but became important to the workforce.

Chinese immigration began after the California Gold Rush. Much unrest arose as Californians began to resent the Chinese being given jobs that they felt should belong to them. Police would look for reasons to arrest them and have them deported. However, many capitalists and entrepreneurs wanted them to be left alone. They were considered to be good for the economy. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. for 10 years. It was not repealed until 1943.

Immigration in America Timeline

Many immigrants  felt more secure by starting their own communities to live in.
Many immigrants felt more secure by starting their own communities to live in. | Source

The Melting Pot

By the early twentieth century immigrants were coming to America from different parts of the world including Italy, Austria-Hungry, Poland and Russia. As time passed immigration regulations grew and changed. Literacy tests were required, and various laws were enacted to restrict the number of immigrants allowed. Any immigrant who preached sabotage or revolution was deported. America was nick-named the Melting Pot Nation.

Early on life was difficult for immigrates. Mostly non-English speaking, they depended on family and immigration communities for support. They huddled together in tenements in the larger cities, living in undesirable conditions. Employers designed ways for assisting immigrants to become productive through classes for speaking English, thriftiness and cleanliness and other traits they felt were important to help them achieve assimilation. Educators used the public schools to educate the children and draw them into the American culture through the teaching of English and American History. The children went home with "new ideas" and a clash of generations evolved. The children wanted to be Americanized and leave the ways of the old country behind. Calling their elders names like "Green Horns," they embraced the American culture through the theater, music and sports. First generation immigrates fought to hang on to the old ways. This trend would would grow and become an American immigrate phenomenon. But immigrants held high hopes for the success of their children.They would go to school and college to become doctors, teachers and successful entrepreneurs-and many did.

A blending of cultures
A blending of cultures | Source

The Salad Bowl

After 1970, a multiculturalism trend began to emerge that would encourage those who had international backgrounds in America to embrace their cultural differences and show pride in their roots. This included African-Americans as well, even though they had been in America for three centuries. They were encouraged to celebrate their African roots through dress, dance and drums. Survivors of the Holocaust were sought out for personal interviews. Americans were encouraged to say Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas. The Irish, the Germans, the Italians-all were encouraged to share and celebrate their unique cultural differences. The term melting pot was changed to salad bowl to reflect that immigrates from second and third generations would retain their heritage and resemble pieces in a mixed salad. Music, art and education reflected this movement to preserve heritage.

God Bless America
God Bless America | Source

Tomato Soup

Would the tragedy of the September 11, 2001 terrorists affect attitudes of Americans toward immigration? A noteworthy 2004 survey by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Foundation and Harvard Kennedy School of Government indicated a trend toward Americans being less negative about immigrates than in the past, but at the same time reflecting conflict. While American citizens felt that immigrants contributed to American society with their diverse cultures, they also felt that assimilation was important. They felt that the constantly changing face of America was a positive force for the nation, but at the same time, unity in a common core was needed.

Samuel Huntington, author of Who Are We: The Challenges To American National Identity voices concerns that America is on the road to becoming a bilingual/bi-cultural country much like Canada, Belgium and Switzerland. He fears that our 'core culture' is under threat by Mexico because so many speak English and the proximity of their nation to the U.S.makes it easy for them to enter the States.

Huntington defines core culture as those values left to America by Anglo-Saxon settlers. He maintains that settlers were not immigrants but rather the Founding Fathers of the Nation. Huntington agrees that immigrants should continue to be an important part of the continuing growth of our Nation. However, he believes that American culture should be like a basic tomato soup with immigrants adding spices to the soup.

Surveys of Chinese, Vietnamese and Mexican immigrants in this same study reflect the same trends of earlier immigrates in America. Many came here with the hopes to return to their home land. But they realize that to earn a living and save money it is important to assimilate and learn the language. They want their children to have opportunities to be successful in America. They know that assimilation is necessary. At the same time, they desire to preserve the culture of their homeland. Passing on traditions and values are important for them. It is their heartfelt desire to keep the culture alive in the generations of family members that follow.

There is no doubt that immigration laws will continue to change through the years as the Administrators of the Nation change. Like Benjamin Franklin, citizens will continue to fear the loss of the language and the culture to others. But one only needs to look at the names and the profiles of those that perished in the 9/11 attacks to see that diversity in America lends us talents from a variety of cultures, as it has from the first time immigrants succeeded in becoming a part of the America, the Land of Opportunity.

Thanks to:

National Public Radio


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    • rebeccamealey profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Mealey 

      16 months ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks, Bill. I take that as a great compliment coming from a good author like yourself.

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      17 months ago from Cape Cod

      This is a well researched piece, beautifully and descriptively laid out. Coming from a family that entered the U.S. through Ellis Island from Sicily in the very early 1900s. I had some first=hand knowledge of immigration but you taught me one thing I did not know. I thought that the East Coast was the only entry point. I never realized that there was a Western version of Ellis Island. Great job Rebecca. You obviously have a brain built for details - a lack of which has hampered my writing career over the last half century.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      3 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Time to resurrect this one (perhaps the author will add a 2017 update?) Good job. I earlier cmmented on our Salad Bowl of ethnicities. I'm a little confused by the references to "immigrates" vs. "immigrants". Typo?

    • rebeccamealey profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Mealey 

      7 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks for reading this, and Happy Fourth of July!

    • go-barbara-go profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi Rebecca,

      It's true everyone of us is an immigrant.

      This salad bowl term is something that we, human beings should be proud of. Although, treatments may vary from one person to another, but generally I think people in the US are harmoniously living together in one place regardless of race.

      Funny, that I considered myself an American in my previous life, but is destined to live somewhere in Asia in my current life. I don't know, but I always felt (dejavu) that I lived somewhere remote in South Dakota. Lol!

      Maybe these people are relocated in the States for a reason or two.

      Very interesting article!

    • rebeccamealey profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Mealey 

      7 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks rose, Happy 4th!

    • rebeccamealey profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Mealey 

      7 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment..I wrote this awhile back and thought it would be of interest in light of the new immigration reform laws.

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      A very insightful and interesting article! Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting hub, Rebecca. I don't know very much about American history, apart from a basic overview of some events. I enjoyed learning more by reading your hub, which is very informative!

    • rebeccamealey profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Mealey 

      8 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks so much for your insight. I am pleased to spark an interest here. After all, we are all truly immigrants!

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      8 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      In my life I have seen this as a two way situation. I was born and have lived all my life in America. Yet have been treated like a second class citizen most of my life. My family was more accepted by those emigrating from other countries than those who had spent their lifetime here.

      Your hub has been inspirational in starting research of my own. Thanks Voted up Awesome, and SHARING with my social network.

    • rebeccamealey profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Mealey 

      8 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Blessings and thanks for commenting!

    • radhikasree profile image

      Radhika Sreekanth 

      8 years ago from Mumbai,India

      Most of my friends and relatives have become the citizens of America, now. Such a great country that gives life to every yearning minds. Great hub! Voted up as useful.

    • rebeccamealey profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Mealey 

      8 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Good luck to your daughter in law!We went through that with a son in law from SA!

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      8 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      I welcome all.. Half my family now is Hispanic. My sons have married the most beautiful Hispanic women. I am so blessed. One of my sons live in Mexico with his wife. She trying to get her papers to come over. It's been seven years now. At one time if you married an American you could come to the states very easy. but not anymore. Since 9/11. Thank you for this hub.

      I voted way up

      Be blessed


    • rebeccamealey profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Mealey 

      8 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks for stopping to comment asmaifikhar.

      We're glad you are here in the USA, anglnwu

    • anglnwu profile image


      8 years ago

      As a transplant--I came here because I married an American, I'm thankful that America is very tolerant of various people of various cultures. Thanks for the very detailed hub. Rated up.

    • asmaiftikhar profile image


      8 years ago from Pakistan

      Interesting facts and a useful hub.Thanks for sharing this hub.


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