Nation of Immigrants
The United States has often been called “a nation of immigrants. There are two good reasons for this. First, the country was settled, built and developed by generations of immigrants and their children. Secondly, even today America continues to take in more, immigrants than any other country in the world. Many different, cultural traditions, ethnic sympathies, national origins, racial groups, and religious affiliations make up “we the people.”
Nonetheless, it would be very misleading to view America simply as a collection of different immigrant groups and ethnic or religious loyal-ties. It is not true (as is often stated) that there are more Irish, more Germans, and more Puerto Ricans living in New York City than there are in Dublin, Frankfurt, or San Juan. In fact, 94 percent of all Americans today were born in the United States (as compared, for example, with only 85 percent in 1910). As a result, those tens of millions of Americans who proudly acknowledge their ethnic roots are still “more American”‘ than they are Irish, Italian, German, or Puerto Rican. What they have in common is more significant than what makes them, as Americans, different from one another.
“The “Average American”
The variety of ethnic identities, immigration experiences, and cultural choices that have gone into making Americans is so complex, however, that describing the “average American” is very difficult. Our “average American” might be white, but Americans are not “normally” white. Most Americans are Christians, but America cannot be called “a Chris-tian country.” And a majority of Americans might claim European ancestry, but this description also does not define
Americans in general. Neither, in fact, does language. The United States is one of the few countries that has no “official national lan-guage, or language “. English
is the common language by use, but it is not the national language by law. About 30 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. This means, for example, that if you meet an American in New Mexico who speaks Spanish as his first language, he could be a recent immigrant, having arrived in the U. S. only a few years ago, or his grandparents could have arrived in the United States a hundred years ago. It could also be that his ancestors had been living in the area years before the thirteen British colonies were established on the East Coast. A so-called foreign accent does not necessarily mean that an individual is (or even was) a foreigner.
The “Melting Pot,” the “Salad Bowl,” and the “Pizza”
Of all the many different nationalities and ethnic groups which have gone into the making of America, some have quickly assimilated. They have largely lost or intentionally given up many of those specific mark-ers which would make them much different from their neighbors. This process of assimilation, or “Americanization,” – becoming part of the “melting pot” – has characterized the immigrant experience in American history. Other Americans have, while becoming American in other ways, maintained much of their ethnic identities. In this sense, U. S. so-ciety has been likened to a “salad bowl.” It does not follow, however, that these Americans are any less aware or proud of their American na-tionality. Perhaps a better metaphor for American society than either “the melting pot” or the “salad bowl” would be that of a “pizza” (which has become, by the way, the single most popular food in America).