Back in 1880’s, approximately 25 million Europeans immigrated to the U.S.
Germans, Italians, Jews, Greeks, Hungarians, Russians and other Slavs, the majority of which were younger than 30, boarded up and traveled across the ocean in search for a better life. Their mother Europe was impoverished. While this age has seen the bloody rise of young and optimistic national states, the imperialism that had made Europe what it was was boiling. The First World War would see it shattered to pieces, along with millions of lives. The young people who took the ships a couple of decades earlier wouldn’t witness this. They would survive, even through great economic crises that were to come in the 1930’s.
Even then there were American conservatives, the so-called nativists, who frowned at this flood of immigrants, fearing their lack of adaptability, or even more, their unwillingness to assimilate into whatever they considered to be the one true American framework. The multicultural soup or the melting pot, they claimed, actually turned into a dumping ground. The Immigration Act of 1924 severely limited the number of European and African immigrants, and banned Asian immigrants from entering the U.S. altogether. Asian peoples were therefore proclaimed incompatible. They didn’t pursue happiness in a desirable way, the act seemed to imply. Newcomers even lacked qualifications for breathing American air, it also implied, introducing literacy test for the few ones granted the access to American ground. The act’s purpose was “to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity”.
The American identity has been comprised of so many different cultures that came to seek freedom and conduct their quest for happiness, in their own terms, at times when the rest of the world was quite a disadvantageous place to do so.
This American pot has ever since been a place where all of the cultures melt together. However, it has also aspired to grow into a salad bowl, where the ingredients would never get deprived of their identity, because their respective identities don’t threaten or jeopardize one another. They hoped to become Americans without having to break up with their roots, their past, who they were or what they were trying to become.
Cultural differences shouldn’t make people different, nor should they imply their subservience to one another. “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” wrote Thomas Jefferson.
Today of all times no one can say that America is a perfect place to abide, or to migrate to. No one can claim that it succeeded in conquering its own political, racial, cultural and other demons, nor that it is the safest place to live. But we should still be allowed to say that it is a place which aspires and struggles to become safe, liberal, and respectable, just like the people who inhabit it. Having said that, there are certain people or entities that want to bridge the gap by eliminating racial profiling, stereotypes and misconceptions about certain cultures in America. Companies like Beyond Exchange, is a great example (beyondculturalevents.com). Their International Cultural Exchange Program is just what the country needs, even more now, as the oneness that the country boosts about, is diminishing in the land of immigrants. Programs such as the cultural exchange program from Beyond Exchange allow participants from diverse cultural background to represent their unique cultures, and show the Americans who they really are, and bring about more awareness. This way the Americans can have a better understanding of the different cultures, and people can start trusting each other in this country, before making an opinion on false or no knowledge at all.
The pursuit of happiness has always been an unalienable right. Maybe we should finally stop considering our ways of pursuing it better than anyone else’s.