The American Identity – Polarization VS Unity

By admin ~ April 12th, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

The political activity that pervades the United States must be seen in order to be understood. No sooner do you set foot upon American ground than you are stunned by a kind of tumult. … It is impossible to spend more effort in the pursuit of happiness.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy America

Is American identity deteriorating due to huge waves of immigrants to this country or will it continue to its existence despite the fact? Before answering to this question it is crucial to know what is identity is: identity is defined the way individuals label themselves as members of particular groups (nation, social class, subculture, ethnicity, gender, etc.). As the definition suggest the concept of identity for a nation is not simple and it becomes more complex in multicultural societies like that of America.

While most of the American population are immigrants from all countries of the world it is interesting to know what keeps Americans together despite diversity of races, ethnicities, cultures, languages and religions?

It is believed that Americans are hold together by a unified identity that makes them to identify themselves as Americans rather than Hispanic, Black, Mexican or Chinese. Being fully an American citizen does not need an ancestral linkage to the nation e.g. to be originally from America. Americans believe in “self- made man” and self creation, in individualism, in liberty and equality of opportunities and self- expression. These values go beyond any specific culture, religion or ethnicity. So, people from all countries can be American by accepting and practicing American values and culture. America is said to be a melting pot that people of all colors and cultures are mixing together; this mixture can be seen in American daily life in borrowing and intermingling different styles, rituals, foods and customs. Of course it is over simplification to think that all minority groups experience America like WASP- white Anglo Saxon protestant- the tragic experiences of Native Americans, Blacks, Chinese and other minority groups testifies the existence of discrimination and racism in America, but it is supposed that minorities in America are enjoying a better standard of living and civil rights compared to other countries. Reformists and civil right movements tried to change the situation and create equality for different racial groups. While it is argued that even in 21st century there still exist inequalities and discrimination in American societies, others believe that each generation of Americans has moved toward acceptance of different people, opinions, religions, cultures and even languages.

Contemporary immigration especially in the last three decades has changed the demographic pattern of immigration of the U.S.: before 1970’s most Americans were categorized simply as black and white; but now America is more racially, culturally and linguistically diverse. Most of the recent immigrants to America are Asian and Latino. There are also intermarriages between people of color and whites which deepens the roots of immigrant in society. On the other hand Hispanics or Asian has higher birth rate compared to white Americans and it is highly probable that they will gain the majority of the U.S. population in the years to come.

Diversity of races and ethnicities in America raise the concerns and anxieties over the future of unity and American identity. What will happen to the future of America and American values and culture? How the immigrants who enter U.S. with different identities, languages and cultures are incorporated and melt in American society? Do they try to assimilate to the new culture or try to keep there own cultural heritage? Does the division of American society widens or America will continue its existence as it was?

It is difficult answer to these questions. American history has shown that different ethnicities and groups had tried to incorporate to American society- no matter what their origins were. Some are optimist about the future of American identity; they think that citizens of the U.S. have so much commonality that would keep them together. They believe that the very concept of polarization and disunity would give rise to movements to keep the nation’s unity. Today American media plays an important role in creating a sense of unity among people of different races and ethnicities. Many talk shows or soap operas try to use actors, entertainers or hosts that are not white; they are people of color with different origins but despite their differences they all have one goal: to propagate American values and cultures and to create a sense of common experience of being an American. But there are still others who believe that the new trend of immigration to the U.S. as it was mentioned is significantly different from the former generations and eventually would lead to the disunity of American nation.
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