Why Are Culture And Identity Such Contested Terrain In Contemporary America?

2149 words - 9 pages

When considering American culture and identity, one could argue that there is no such thing, since contemporary America is home to a cultural and ethnic mix so great that it cannot be considered as a whole; alternatively, American culture and Identity may be seen as an amalgam of social and cultural differences from the many ethnic groups that inhabit this great continent. These two opposing ideas, of a "salad bowl" (the former) and a "melting pot" (the latter) provide us with the dominant models of American Society and the main source of dissent. A third, less well known idea is that neither of these models effectively represents the difficult balance between commonality and diversity but that a combination of the two is where the truth lies, in that the multiculturalism and ethnic diversity of the salad bowl allows the divergent ethnic groups freedom to pursue and maintain their identities with a concomitant amalgam of core values and beliefs followed by the whole. The two primary reasons for the tension between the main conceptions of American identity are history and power, or how the so-called "American identity" was formed in the first place and how power in its many forms, i.e., political, social, religious and economic has influenced the shifting debate on whom, or what makes an American. Moreover, power in the United States has, historically been predicated on race and nationality, giving rise to greater tensions over the question of culture and identity for the American people.Crevecoeur, in 1782, wrote of a nation where "individuals are melted into a new race of man" (Maidment and Mitchell, (eds.) 2000, 19) but that new race of man was to be determined by the Anglo-dominated culture that developed with the first, English, settlers. All the institutions of power and control were set up by the English colonizers, who wrote the laws, based on their own values and beliefs. In fact, the first challenge to Crevecoeur's "new race" idea came before he even penned it, as Benjamin Franklin gave voice to the fears of the English-speaking Pennsylvanians who, alarmed by German immigration, feared the dilution of their own culture and power, as he wrote of the "Palatine Boors (Germans) [swarming] into our settlements, and by herding together [establishing] their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours" and asked the question, "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens?" (Maidment and Mitchell, (eds.) 2000, 19) Clearly, the Anglo-dominant culture at the time had no intention of giving up its authority. Crevecoeur's "race of man" would be English-speaking. At this juncture, being American meant being white, speaking English and following English ideals and values to the exclusion of others. The melting pot was decidedly monochromatic.This Anglo-dominated melting pot became the accepted model for America, in the years to come, as new generations of immigrants and their progeny bought into the idea, often with good...

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