Written By Muhammad Al Ikhlas
Just a little walk in the city of New York or Chicago, for example, would make any foreigner realize the presence of people of various races walking down the street: probably Caucasians, blacks, Hispanics, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and so on. Or for another example, on school campuses in America, bo th the faculty and the student body are usually composed of people from a number of countries rather than only one. Almost anywhere in America, the possibility is encountering a mix of people. Thus, America is a land of plural races and ethnicities, with a multicultural context.
Indeed, the variety of ethnicities in America is often claimed to be the best mix in the world. Leonard Dinnerstein and David M. Reimers introduce their book, Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration and Assimilation, by stating, “Never before – and in no other country – have as many varied ethnic groups congregated and amalgamated as they have in the United States” . With such reputation, here is exactly where the famous term “melting pot” arises. This conception has traditionally been perceived as the best expression to describe the multi-ethnicity of America. Its basic idea presents the whole nation as one large pot. Anyone who enters the United States is automatically thrown into this “pot” where, for the following years, a process of assimilation into the American belief systems is taken place. All the cultural aspects that one brings into are blended together, or melted, to form a new culture. The outcome of this massive procedure is the “melted” version of a culture, which is described as characteristically “American.” It is notable that in this assimilation, the identities of each original culture are extinguished to bring out a complete new mixture.
Along with this perspective, however, there is another expression that describes the diversity of people in America. It tends to be interpreted in the same way as the “melting pot,” but actually has a slightly different meaning with a different way of approaching and explaining American society. In comparison with the “melting pot” theory, there is the “salad bowl” theory. This idea demonstrates a complete separate perspective that the newcomers bring different cultures, where each of these cultures is kept as an essential part to make up the whole. Every distinctive culture or belief is considered to be one of the tastes or ingredients that contributes in forming the whole; therefore its original shape and characteristics are maintained.
Whether to apply the term “melting pot” or the term “salad bowl” to the American multi-ethnic conditions brings about a large discussion and controversy. In a way, both serve as an effective and successful metaphor, despite their slight difference. Anyone who is accustomed to an extremely homogeneous society would be simply astonished after recognizing many faces with different physical features in America, and might praise the country by employing those two terms in topic. The ideas of the “melting pot” and the “salad bowl” in America both connote somewhat of an ideal to many people and are often admired. Having a close look at the reality of the country, such as the existing ethnic segregation, the fact of the white population fleeing away from the minority poverty, and the trend of the minority group forming an enclave, however, one can see that the “melting pot” theory is merely a myth, and despite its long fame, it is rather more suitable to label America as a “salad bowl.”