The Metaphor of the Cultural Melting Pot
With reference to the concept of Americana, assessing how norms, judgments, and standards apply to its meaning, that is, how we come to understand Americana can help in furthering our analysis of the American way of life, in general, and Americana specifically.
In the most charitable interpretation of Americana, one need only point to the conception of the United States as the “melting pot.” Granted the cliché is a default pop culture attempt at describing the diversity that constitutes American culture and thus Americana by identifying the cultural diversity of its people and their practices.
In discussing the notion that America is a melting pot, two important questions arise, namely, (1) “What meaning can one distill from the suggestion that America is a melting pot?” and (2) “How is that meaning applied to a representation of diversity within American population?”
The former question speaks to the use of the term melting pot – that is, in what context is the term used and how, in that context, does one arrive at an understanding of its meaning.
The latter question assumes the meaning of a meltingpot based on the obvious cultural diversity of America’s population and then seeks to verify that meaning against the demography of America’s population.
Briefly, the demography of America’s population is a statistical assessment of the distribution of multivalent identifiers within the population, namely, a census. The census is a statistical representation of the actual distribution of these variances.
Thus, as a representation, the statistical demography of America’s population will always have plus or minus some degree of error, as it is improbable, though not impossible, for statistical data to perfectly match the actual data. The question, then, becomes, “What is the actual data?”
In discussing the demography of America’s population, the best we have been able to achieve, and the best that is arguably achievable, is census data. Speculating as to the nature of the actual distribution of some variable across the population is futile.
If it is agreed that census data is the best representation for the distribution of multivalent identifiers within America’s population, and it is also acknowledged that such data, comprehensive as it may be, must take into account some degree of error, then any analysis, especially theoretical analysis based on this data, must admit some degree of error in its conceptual approach.
Thus, before I continue with a further description and analysis of the melting pot, I must acknowledge that much of this analysis will be buttressed by census data and is therefore prone to error.
Since no one has an actual model of the spread of variables distributed across America’s population, the best I can do is to model my theory against the most effective representation, namely, yearly census data. Surely, then, there will be irregularities within my account. As America’s demography changes and the dispersion of variables increase and decrease throughout the population, our analyses must change to reflect these new trends.
Returning, then, to the notion of America as the melting pot, our first task is to interpret the meaning of this claim.
The melting pot of society is a metaphor for the cultural and social diversity represented throughout the United States. More specifically, though, “What is a melting pot?” Imagine that cubes of chocolate and marshmallows are placed in a pot, which is then heated. Eventually the chocolate and marshmallows will melt and fuse such that one can no longer separate the chocolate from the marshmallow.
Regarding the second question, “How is this meaning applied to a representation of diversity throughout American population?” one must seek to apply this metaphor to verifiable statistical data, namely, the census.
A problem emerges, however, with such an attempt. If one is to truly hold firm to the belief that America is a melting pot of society, then the diversity represented within one segment of society should also be represented throughout, which is clearly false.
The simple fact is, America is not a melting pot, which is not an indictment of America as much as it an indictment of the notion of a melting pot. In fact, no country could ever be a melting pot as it would be impossible to assess difference. The point of a melting is to arrive at assimilation, and there will always be pockets of the population that refuse to assimilate.