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UDERSTANDING AMERICAN CULTURE
From Melting Pot to Salad Bowl
By Joyce Millet  

 

 

 

 

 

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Understanding American Culture

America has traditionally been referred to as a "melting pot,"
welcoming people from many different countries, races, and
religions, all hoping to find freedom, new opportunities,
and a better way of life. 

   

E Pluribus Unum - From Many to One


American history began with waves of immigrants, bringing their own cultures and traditions to a vast new country.  No other place in the world has such a diverse population.  It is this diversity that makes America what it is and, at the same time, creates the challenges it faces.

 

But What is American Culture?


Americans come from all over the world.  A recent internet search for "American Culture" turned up more than 47 categories!  Some of these include:  

African
Asian 
Arabic 
Brazilian 
Chinese 
Danish 
German 
Hispanic/Latino 
Indian 
Iranian 
Irish

Italian 
Japanese 
Korean 
Native Americans 
Norwegian 
Philippine 
Polish 
Scandinavian 
Scottish 
Vietnamese 
Welsh


Strictly speaking, the only indigenous Americans are the American Indians who were living here long before the first waves of settlers came over from Europe.  When Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, he called these natives "Indians" because he thought he had discovered a western route to India.


Today the trend is toward multiculturalism, not assimilation.  The old "melting pot" metaphor is giving way to new metaphors such as "salad bowl" and "mosaic", mixtures of various ingredients that keep their individual characteristics.  Immigrant populations within the United States are not being blended together in one "pot", but rather they are transforming American Society into a truly multicultural mosaic.  

Understanding American Culture Understanding the national character of the United States begins with the land itself-- approximately the size of China, half the size of Russia, and two and one-half times the size of Western Europe.   It is a vast country with an abundance of natural resources.  
   
From Sea to Shining Sea
 
The American mosaic is one of different cultures and regional identities, each with unique characteristics and flavors.  Americans often think of themselves not only as coming from a particular ethnic heritage, but also of being part of a geographical region.  Understanding these regional characteristics and flavors is an excellent way to get to know Americans. 
 
The East
 

New England - Early economic and cultural center for almost two centuries.  New Englanders are known for their self-reliance, and distinctive accent, particularly in the North and in Boston. 

The Middle Atlantic States -known historically for the "muscle" of the American economy, the region became the center for heavy industry.  Settlers were from many different cultural backgrounds, including Dutch, Swedes, English Catholics and Protestants, and Quakers.  

 
The South 
 
Famous for "southern hospitality", and a very distinctive accent, known as a "southern drawl", the South is perhaps one of the most colorful regions in the United States.  English Protestants, many becoming rich by raising tobacco and cotton on large southern plantations, originally settled this region. 
 
The Midwest 
 
This region has been called "America's cultural crossroads and breadbasket."   Settlers came primarily from Germany, Sweden, and Norway.  The Mississippi River, lifeline of the region, inspired the world-famous Mark Twain book, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
 
The Great Lakes & Great Plains 
 

The Great Lakes region, named for its many lakes, played the part of the early industrial center in American.  It is the center of the American automobile industry and the development of mass production.    

The Great Plains, so named because it covers over 1,000 miles of plains and prairies, reaches from Oklahoma and Kansas to North Dakota.  Wyatt Earp, and "Wild Bill" Hickok, two legendary lawmen, ruled the frontier towns of Dodge City and Abilene.

 
The West 
The American West is a geographical region, the "last frontier" to be settled in a vast country.  Settlers moved west to find new opportunity, escape religious persecution, and create a new and better way of life. 

The American West is also, perhaps a state of mind.  This "Frontier Spirit", and the move westward had a significant impact on the development of American culture. 
 

In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner's wrote his Frontier Thesis, one of the most influential models of American culture.  He suggests that the frontier played a significant role in shaping American institutions, and the "expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character." 

The story of the American West has traveled the world with the help of Hollywood.  John Wayne may have been a Hollywood actor, but to many, he represents many characteristics associated with American culture...

  • Individualistic & self-reliant
  • Friendly, spontaneous, & informal
  • Confident, arrogant, logical & direct
  • Creative & innovative
  • Great talkers and debaters
  • Firm believers in the written word and contractual agreements
  • Uncomfortable with long periods of silence 
  • Passionate about truth, justice, and equal opportunity
 
"Every country in the world loved the folklore of the West--the music, the dress, the excitement, everything that was associated with the opening of a new territory.  It took everybody out of their own little world. The cowboy lasted a hundred years, created more songs and prose and poetry than any other folk figure. The closest thing was the Japanese samurai."   
~ John Wayne
 
Copyright © 2013 Joyce Millet   All Rights Reserved.  
 
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