Intercultural Extraneity

From outsider to American, the progress of immigrants in shaping American culture

America is a breeding ground for an intercultural exchange among numerous peoples, languages, ideologies, and their syncretism therein. The USA continues to be the melting pot of not only peoples but their ideas as well. Such a complex fabric of different entities leads to various viewpoints regarding diversity, migration and assimilation. In our reading this semester, we have seen cross-cultural interplay exhibited in various forms. One such example is the article ’’The Real History of American Immigration’’ which discusses the historical impact of economic migrants in the US, and their effects on the socio-political climate of their new land. Of course, these people not only bring the hope of economic prosperity with them, but they also carry over the lessons and ideals of their home countries. The article highlights the jobs and social positions of these migrants, and how this has changed over the last century. According to Joshua Zeitz, in 1900, 2% of immigrants were considered high-skilled workers. And now, that figure has risen considerably to 10% in 1973, and even higher in the present day. Immigrant-social positions have thus risen concurrently which helps shape how Americans view them. A prevailing stereotype in America today is that Asians are successful in Math and Science. And, albeit a brash generalization that sentiment was not present 100 years ago when most Asians were employed as railroad workers. Thus, we see the power of immigrants to successfully stake their claim not only in their financial well-being but in the ’’American dream’’ itself. Americans are learning to accept these new ideals by slowly introducing them into the existing American culture. Perhaps one of the most poignant examples of this dream lies in Mihailo Pupin’s autobiography, ’’From immigrant to inventor’’. In his own words, Pupin arrived at Castle Garden with only 5 cents in his pocket. By the time he wrote his autobiography, 40 years later, he had become a successful businessman, physicist, inventor and philanthropist. According to him, his penniless state had no relevant impact on his success; the principal element in his achievement lied solely in the words of his father which inspired him to go to America and pursue his ideals. This rags-to-riches story is very common amongst many of the pre-eminent immigrants which have shaped the course of the American history in the last century and beyond. Nearly everyone can name at least a few outstanding immigrants and these inspiring tales echo with the general American populis, which is proud to see such determination and grit which benefit America. It also normalizes the perception of immigrants seeking opportunity abroad. However, it must be addressed that not all Americans perceive immigration so positively. There exist xenophobic elements that persist throughout America and continue to evolve with the times. Many immigrants are pressured to assimilate within the broader American cultural context in order to be seen as ’’good and normal’’. According to Seth Godin, we are driven to become a member in good standing of the tribe. In order to avoid being seen as an outsider, many migrants progressively lose touch with their original culture as successive generations strive to become a part of the American ’’tribe’’. It is debatable whether losing one’s culture for the sake of assimilation is good or bad. But, it’s inevitability is certain. This assimilation, however, is a two-way street. As migrants adopt American culture, their own cultural devices leak into the broader American cultural framework. This is apparent in our cuisine, demographic makeup, music and beyond. Thus, the melting pot continues to melt. Nevertheless, this integration is far from perfect and leads to intense stratification as well. In recent years, the comment colloquialism is ’’America is now more divided than ever’’. Politically and socially, American culture has become more and more partisan as media, politics and society have been furthering ideological conflict. The question of what it means to be an American begets an entirely different answer depending on what side of the ideological coin you ask. Some believe that being an American means that anyone should be admitted freely into the nation and their mere existence is validation of their ’’Americanism’’. Conversely, others believe that being an American is something that has to be earned and it is a privilege, not a global right. In Pete Warden’s blog, he offers an informative graphical presentation of the ideological divides within America. Areas like Dixie and Mormonia are diametrically opposed to socialistan and stayathornia. To put it simply, California and Alabama don’t exactly see eye to eye. According to Mr. Warden, these clusters of ideological identities are rather incestuous and they further stratify according to their social ideals. It can be said that immigration, as a tenet of the rapid rise of progressivism has caused many people to push back and remove themselves from this new cultural landscape. Thus the cultural evolution within America is complicated and these changes are not uniform. Throughout the reading we have been exposed to this semester, we gained an appreciation for the finer points of American culture and how it has been shaped in part by immigration. Although, divisions occur the overall trajectory of immigration has slowly re-defined what it means to be an immigrant. Through the mass migrations in the 1900s to great people, like Mihailo Pupin, the word ’’immigrant’’ has become less and less synonymous with the word ’’outsider’’ and more akin to ’’American’’.

I hereby confirm that this work is solely the result of my own independent scholarly work and that if any ideas, text passages, or diagrams from books, papers, the Web or other sources have been copied, paraphrased, or in any other way used, all references – including those found in electronic media – have been clearly acknowledged and fully cited.

S.G. 2017/0522

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