History of Immigrant nations: What is it like to be American?

Sep 2015
1,437
England
#11
Wow, that's quite a question.

I will speak a little bit from my own experience.

On my mother's side, I descend from what are sometimes called "Old Stock Americans", those who can trace their ancestry back to colonial times in the 17th and 18th century. It's a typical mix of mostly English, Scottish, Scots-Irish, and Irish with some German and Scandinavian thrown in. In general, this side of the family doesn't take their European heritage too seriously, but rather embraces their American identity whole heartedly. Apple pie and the Fourth of July types.

My father's side is quite different. It is entirely Irish. They came to Massachusetts during the Potato Famine, as is such a common story, worked in Boston, saved up enough money to buy a farm, and eventually moved out of the city and worked the land in rural western Mass. The little town they lived in was divided into ethnic neighborhoods, and it was understood that the Irish didn't mix with the Italians, neither of them ventured into the more well-to-do WASP neighborhood, and everyone stayed out of black neighborhoods completely. That's how it was back then.

This side of the family was very proud and defensive over their Irishness and their Catholicity. My father's generation and uncles grew up calling each other "Micks", and generally picking fights with "guineas and ni**ers". Because they grew up in an environment where their family, friends, and church were all Irish, they came to identify much more strongly with that side of their identity than with the American side of it, at least during their youth.

Things changed a lot during my generation. I grew up in California after my dad migrated there in the '60s. Growing up outside of any ethnically segregated neighborhood, on the racially pluralistic West Coast, I never absorbed too much of my father's Irish identity. He still referred to us as "Irishmen", but I've never taken that too seriously. The racial and ethnic hatred which functioned as an effective defensive mechanism in my father's childhood environment seemed stupid and wrong in the environment I grew up in.

I remember one time when I was on a Little League team, they handed out our jerseys with the names of last year's players still sewn on the back. So for the first game I ended up wearing a jersey with a very obvious Italian last name on the back, and it bothered my father somewhat. I remember him saying that his grandfather is probably rolling in his grave in outrage. All of that sort of thing seemed a bit quaint and out of touch to my young mind.

Meanwhile, growing up in California there were different identities at play. Rather than Irish/Italian/German/ etc, the relevant categories became White, Hispanic, Black, and Asian. Nowadays even these categories are becoming less well defined and less relevant, at least on the West Coast.
One angle on the melting pot question is the contrary view, that describes it as the 'indigestible masses'.
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
4,975
US
#13
Is the USA anymore of a 'melting pot' than Europe has been over time?
Well, firstly, Europe consists of many nations, each with a unique history. In general, I would say the U.S. is an example of a more recent melting pot. After all, there are few places where in the last 200 years people in significant numbers have emigrated from more nationalities and ethnicities than one has fingers (and probably toes as well; I can count about 15 off the top of my head just from Europe in my region). With that said, nations such as Germany or the U.K. may come close. For example, I just found a not so distant cousin in Germany. Both our ancestors came from what is now Poland. As you may know, many Poles emigrated from what was then the eastern Marches of the German empire to the western parts of the Empire.
 
Likes: Sindane
Oct 2011
7,631
MARE PACIFICVM
#14
One angle on the melting pot question is the contrary view, that describes it as the 'indigestible masses'.
Things have certainly never been quite as smooth as the term "melting pot" implies. I suppose it's a bit of both, there are lots of examples of immigrants coming to America and making good, getting rich, and becoming respected and respectable.

But there are many, many examples of the opposite, immigrants coming here and struggling to make ends meat, working long hours in difficult jobs, facing discrimination and disrespect, and often living out their lives in impoverished, self-segregated corners of cities or neighborhoods that each ethnic group carved out for itself. Immigrants to this country often lived dirty, dangerous lives in the hope that their children would grow up with all the advantages of being an American. And to the credit of this country, it did often work out that way. While first generation success stories are not too difficult to find, success stories among children of immigrants are so numerous as to be uncountable.
 
Oct 2011
7,631
MARE PACIFICVM
#15
Is the USA anymore of a 'melting pot' than Europe has been over time?
In my opinion the answer to your question is in the question itself... "over time".

Europe has certainly seen its share of population criss-cross over the last few thousand years, but in the United States, it happened extremely rapidly and on a massive scale. Seemingly endless floods of millions and millions and millions of people from every corner of the globe, an enormous percentage of which happened in a single century (the 19th), although of course immigration numbers have always been huge in this country. But I think anyone would be hard pressed to find a nation which has experienced more immigration in a shorter time than the United States.
 
Aug 2018
40
Southern Indiana
#17
One thing I noticed was the omission of the Latino culture in the US, it is very important especially in the South-west.
I would say that
1) Most all Americas know or think they know their ancestry and can usually relay a brief related story, but I think it varies greatly as to how much it means to them. Some US citizens are 1st and 2nd. generation Americans and most likely have stronger ties to their families country of origin. Citizens whose families date back to colonial times probably identify much more as solely American. Some groups you mentioned such as Jews, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos are more closely tied to their own culture, but that is not exclusive to being American.

Another thing to consider in regards to the "melting pot", some areas are very diverse especially urban centers, but some rural areas are very (90%+) white, some very black, some very latino.
 

royal744

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
9,514
San Antonio, Tx
#18
Thanks for the answers.

On the Jewish note, it's about the same in Europe. Jewish is considered a nationality unless they come from Israel, then they will identify as Israeli, though the Jewish part is generally implied. Although, the actual native Israeli Jewish, I believe, identify as Palestinian Jews... though the term is in dispute and I believe the differentiation is political (pro-Zionist or not).

There's a difference in Europe that may not occur in the US. Many (certainly not all) people here would hide their Jewish ancestry from the public due to fear of another deadly rise in anti-Semitism. It's to the point that some younger people are doing DNA tests and discovering they are as much as 100% Jewish.
My junior high and senior high schools in Houston had sizable Jewish populations. Their presence sharpened all our academic senses and made striving to be best into a highly competitive affair. The Jews made our school much better than it might have been otherwise. The Jewish girls were a) smart and b) quite attractive and c) no available for “Christian” boys to date. More’s the pity.
 

royal744

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
9,514
San Antonio, Tx
#19
One thing I noticed was the omission of the Latino culture in the US, it is very important especially in the South-west.
I would say that
1) Most all Americas know or think they know their ancestry and can usually relay a brief related story, but I think it varies greatly as to how much it means to them. Some US citizens are 1st and 2nd. generation Americans and most likely have stronger ties to their families country of origin. Citizens whose families date back to colonial times probably identify much more as solely American. Some groups you mentioned such as Jews, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos are more closely tied to their own culture, but that is not exclusive to being American.

Another thing to consider in regards to the "melting pot", some areas are very diverse especially urban centers, but some rural areas are very (90%+) white, some very black, some very latino.
It depends very much where one is in a large state such as Texas. We live not too far from the Texas-Mexico border but not extremely close to that frontier. My City is actually majority Hispanic. Downtown one is as apt to hear Spanish (Mexican) spoken as English, but most of the population readily flips between the two languages. Since there is no such thing as an “official” US language (the “de facto” language is English), a lot of our printed publications are in both languages.

My heritage is Dutch, bu it is also partly Dutch-Indonesian. We came to this country in 1951, so it was a very long time ago. We drove from New York City to Houston, Texas which was an adventure all its own.
 
Jul 2013
9,514
San Antonio, Tx
#20
[QUOTE="Mikeduke324, post: 3067664, member: 54694"Edit: One other fact you may find interesting. Many Jewish people will not identify with their ethnicity (German, Russian, Polish) and instead will just say ‘Jewish’. That’s most Jewish people I know however, so that may not be true with everybody.[/QUOTE]

My understanding is that a high percentage of German Jews before the 2nd WW, we not at all observant.
 

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