15 Jul 2009

Sample Essay: Effective Metaphors For Describing Race In America

Throughout its history, the United States has been a haven for people with differences.  During its birth, the country was unique in allowing religious freedoms that other western countries prohibited.  Later, the country began to offer more liberties to women and blacks, as well as open its doors to an influx of immigrants from all over the world.  Today, America’s ethnic and cultural diversity surpasses that of any other nation.  Perhaps, this is the reason why the country has been referred to as a variety of metaphors including melting pot, implying that the country is slowly assimilating the differences into one culture.  However, America more closely resembles a salad, where the different cultures and ethnicities create a vibrant and colorful salad.  Unlike a melting pot, a salad’s different parts are distinct and individual, even when they are combined. Many sociologists agree with this perspective based on extensive research, history, and analytical theories.

The myth of the melting pot has been proven false time and time again by non-caucasian Americans who don’t feel that the country is changing them, rather, they are changing it.  The term “americanization” has become anachronistic in a sense; the notion of the blond haired and blue eyed stereotype no longer prevails in the minds of many immigrants.  Take into consideration Maria Jacinto’s attitude toward the United States, since moving here a decade ago:

” ‘In the Hispanic tradition, the family comes first, not money. It’s important for our children not to be influenced too much by the gueros,’ she said, using a term that means ‘blondies’ but that she employs generally in reference to Americans. ‘I don’t want my children to be influenced by immoral things’ ” (Branigin, 1998).

Immigrant families like the Jacintos are rightfully wary of idealized American culture.  Oftentimes, children are influenced by the worst aspects of society.  True assimilation requires both good and bad learning, and as Sociologist Ruben Rumbaut says, “It doesn’t always lead to something better” (Branigin, 1998).

Even children of immigrants share the same attitude as their parents.  While they are fluent in English and have an easier time assimilating to the culture, a recent study of children of immigrants from Haiti, Cuba, West Indies, Mexico, and Vietnam suggested that they, themselves do not consider them pure Americans.  Rather, the children preferred to label themselves as hyphenated Americans (eg: Korean-American, Mexican-American) instead of American, and few of the children believed in the ideal that the United States was the best country in the world. (Booth, 1998)  Even for kids, the salad bowl scenario is far more appropriate.  These children speak the common American language, but view themselves culturally distinct from the mainstream.

Furthermore, in many states, immigrants have a tendency to cluster into niche neighborhoods according to specific ethnic populations.  Rather than adopting typically American lifestyles, these groups import their unique cultural identity to the country.  Almost every major city has an Asian, African, European, and Latin American community with an array of restaurants, museums and shops, and cultural center.  In cities like Los Angeles, where an influx of immigrants arrive daily,

“It almost goes without saying that today’s new arrivals are a source of vitality and energy, especially in the big cities to which many are attracted. Diversity, almost everyone agrees, is good; choice is good; exposure to different cultures and ideas is good” (Booth, 1998).

Once considered exotic, foods like sushi and burritos have now become staples of American culture.  As different culture continue to pervade into the American mainstream, once-unique attributes slowly become associated with the commonplace.  Again, we see that instead of seeing people of different backgrounds trying to embody once central stereotype, they actually share their differences with one another and combine them to create an identity composed of a variety of influences.

Many groups prefer settling into areas with similar ethnicities.  In fact, ethnic dispersion in the country is quite limited.  Most immigrants tend to move to only six major states:  California absorbs 30.9% of the entire immigrant population, New York- 12.8%, Florida-10%, Texas – 8.6%, New Jersey- 4.3% and Illinois- 4.1%.  Based on these 2000 US Census Bureau statistics, it is evident that not all Americans mix everywhere, thus proving the inaccuracy of the melting pot scenario.  Like a salad, there can be more concentrations of certain elements in some areas, whereas other parts will not.

Different ethnic Americans advocate their distinct identities in the mainstream media and politics.  According to sociologists Leonard Dinnerstein and David Reimers, the salad bowl thesis is applicable to today’s society.

For example:

“Italian Americans vehemently protested the alleged prejudicial treatment that the media and law enforcement officials displayed.  They resented, for example,television programs in which the underworld figure’s name always ended with a vowel.  They also railed against alleged discrimination by the FBI, which they claimed unfairly portrayed Italian Americans as criminals” (1977, pp 191).

Instead of the Italians trying to assimilate to the traditionally mainstream culture, they fought to preserve their identity and fight the unfair stereotypes.  As more immigrants have moved to the country, the trend in ethnic advocacy is only growing.  Today’s Asian American community, once considered the quiet minority, has become more outspoken and visible in the media.  They follow the footsteps of the African American and Latin American communities that have deep rooted political movements as well as special entertainment niches.  Historically, African Americans have contributed significant political influence into today’s society.  Though Blacks have made up the largest minority group since the country’s birth, it was only since the 1960s when legal segregation ended.  African Americans exemplified the salad bowl motif in their adjustment into American society.  Though they began to move to white urban areas in large number hoping to find opportunities and fair treatment, they encountered much resistance.

With the passing of Brown vs Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Black community organized themselves to address issues that continued to plague them.  Social justice came in the form of seeking for reforms in schools and educational opportunities, improving neighborhoods, and easing racial relations.  Like a salad, Blacks tried to integrate themselves into American culture, but still demanded recognition for their own rights. Brilliant advocates like Martin Luther King Jr, Jesse Jackson, and now, Barack Obama provide a definite sense of cultural importance to society with their vision for America.  The democratic presidential candidate recognizes that the American identity is still fractured within the country:

“Race is still a powerful force in this country. Any African American candidate, or any Latino candidate, or Asian candidate or woman candidate confronts a higher threshold in establishing himself to the voters … Are some voters not going to vote for me because I’m African American? Those are the same voters who probably wouldn’t vote for me because of my politics” (2006).

As the first African American to have a decent shot at becoming the President of the United States, Obama has surpassed the expectations of many Americans.  One may argue that Obama’s success is indicative of the melting pot theory, because it shows that a black man can assimilate into a traditionally caucasian office.  However, Obama’s appeal actually comes from the fact that he markets his differences to the public.  In a time when the traditional “white” and “upperclass” leaders have been guilty of numerous scandals and corruption, Obama offers a fresh and different alternative that is disparate from what Americans are used to.  He is a new type of ingredient in the American salad- offering hope and change that minorities can associate with.

Rival Hillary Clinton also represents the changing political climate as well.  Though she is caucasian, Clinton may become the first female president in history, which also parallels the notion of the salad.  Evidently, America no longer wants the same old thing– we are finally admitting that different can be good, if not better.

Bibliography:

Branigin, William. 1998.” Immigrants Shunning Idea of Assimilation.” Washington Post: A1. URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/meltingpot/meltingpot.htm

Booth, William. 1998. “One Nation, Indivisible: Is It History?” Washington Post: A1. URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/meltingpot/melt0222.htm

Dinnerstein, Leonard & Reimers, David M. 1977. Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration. New York: Columbia University Press.

2006. “Who is Barack Obama?” Spokane for Obama Organization. URL: http://209.85.173.104/search?q=cache:Y4IjyxQGZZEJ:www.spokane4obama.org/ObamaHandout.pdf+BARACK+OBAMA,+Los+Angeles+Times,+%22Dec.+11,+2006%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=5&gl=us&client=firefox-a

2003.”We Raise Our Voices: Celebrating Activism for Equality and Pride in Boston’s African American, Feminist, Gay and Lesbian, and Latino Communities,” the online edition of a Northeastern University Libraries exhibition. Boston: Northeastern University Libraries.  URL: http://www.lib.neu.edu/archives/voices

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