One of the only constants in the current immigration debate seems to be a tendency to re-brand everything—to make all of the arguments new again. For me, one of the most annoying examples of this is the Mosaic theory of immigration. So, I know that I’m verging into political science territory, but since this is a post predominantly on word usage, I think it can safely still belong in my Humanities Attic. Also, this post has no political bone to pick, nor is it intended as a sociological discourse on various indignities and abuses immigrants have suffered in American history (and present). I’m only here for the definitions and the discussion of language.
So, I get that the newer Mosaic way of looking at immigration is well-intentioned. Its proponents want to highlight American diversity and to showcase that immigrants to our country don’t need to give up everything that makes them unique in order to belong—which is what they think the older idea of the Melting Pot is all about. The only problem is that they are wrong about what the Melting Pot is and what it means for immigration.
So, let’s take a look at that Melting Pot shall we? I’ve always envisioned it as a great big boiling pot of cultural stew (for those who see it as melting chocolate, sorry my culinary experiments—and so my cooking metaphors—tend towards the savory). So, anyway, a stew filled with potatoes and beef and carrots and spices and…anyway you get the idea. Don’t worry, I have no intention of assigning an ingredient to every immigrant group to come to America. The point is that, when the stew is done, there are still potatoes, beef, etc. The only way they disappear is if you put the stew in the blender, but that’s another recipe and thankfully not a theory of immigration. Take the Italians for example. They are a relatively old immigrant group, and yet there Italian-American culture is still going strong. How about the Irish?—check out Saint Patricks Day. There are still pockets of German, Chinese, Cuban, etc. culture all over the country, so I don’t see that immigration has resulted in an indiscriminate homogenous mass. As a bonus, bits and pieces of those cultures have also found traction within the larger whole of American life.
The Mosaic prides itself on creating a picture of America with all of the cultures both part of the larger whole and still distinct, but isn’t that exactly what the Melting Pot was talking about? With apologies to any fans of the Mosaic theory, I genuinely think that it is just a rebranded metaphor that may give people a different image to envisage immigration; but it’s actually just saying the same thing as the old image: you can retain what makes you diverse even as you become Americans.