chapter  2
26 Pages

History: A Nation of Immigrants,

IN HISTORICAL TERMS, the United States always has been anation of divided sentiments. It also has been a land of unprece-dented cultural diversity. Although America’s first explorers-more than five hundred years ago-came from Scandinavia, Spain, and Portugal, the bulk of settlers arrived in the 1800s from the British Isles, along with voluntary and involuntary immigrants from the rest of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Factoring in the additional element of indigenous peoples, the United States was a land of some of the most profound cultural and racial differences the world had ever seen. Immigration has been an important element of American identity, especially since the mid-nineteenth century. The absorption of the stream of immigrants became in itself a prominent feature of America’s national myth. The metaphor of the “melting pot” came into usage to suggest that immigrant cultures mixed in some kind of natural process. The Melting Pot implied immigrant groups unproblemmatically assimilated into American society. Yet as recent history has shown, this assimilation of diversity came with a price. While many early settlers tended to segregate themselves by nationality, ethnicity, or religion-contact and commingling among groups in cities and other areas was inevitable. This mixing of cultures did not always go smoothly, as is still evident today in conflicts over border policies, naturalization procedures, debates over social services for immigrants, and the effects on immigrants in the national labor pool.