Melting pot and salad bowl

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Melting pot and salad bowl

We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”

- Jimmy Carter

Basic Facts
The melting pot is a metaphor generally used to describe the american society in its first years. In the very beginning the settlers in the „new world“ had to create a totally new nation from many different origins and the proximate result of this situation was the birth of the melting pot theory.

The idea behind it is, that every immigrant arriving at the coast of the United States has to give up his or her national identity, culture and language in order to be accepted as part of the american society. The process of cultural assimilation can be seen as some sort of melting process, in which all immigrants from different origins melt together in a big pot: as they step out of it, their old identity is gone.

In the 19th century the term was formulated for the first time by the american writer Ralph Wildo Emerson and by 1908 it became popular via Israel Zangwill’s play which had the title „the melting pot“.

With the Immigration Act from 1965 large numbers of Latin-Americans and Asians followed the wave of european immigrants, but they were unable to assimilate as easily as the Europeans did. Especially non-white groups began to emphasize their own heritage and culture, so that the American Society could no longer be seen as an homogeneous structure.

By that time the metaphor of the salad bowl became popular to be used as a description of the society of the United States: the variety of different ethnic groups in the modern American society symbolize the „ingredients“ which reserve their own flavor and texture while contributing to the aggregate „salad“.

Remit / Thesaurus
Dicuss the following theses:

  • „The melting pot theory is an obsolete concept.“

  • „Segregation is the only way to maintain ethnic identities.“

  • „Bilingual education is necessary to keep up cultural identities.“

  • „The melting pot theory is an instrument of intolerance and discrimination.“

americanization, citizenship, cultural assimilation, diversity, e pluribus unum (one from many), homogenization, immigration, integration, loss of identity, melting pot, mosaic, multiculturalism, nationalism, naturalization, particularism, pizza, pluralism, racial segregation, salad bowl, sociology, tolerance, transculturation

Comment: E pluribus unum – still given?
As the US population has always been a mixture of different races and nations there also have been made many attempts to describe its shape in a simple way: by using a metaphor. In the beginning there was the idea of that particular „melting pot“ in which the immigrants blended their cultural heritage into a new and single identity. But after a while people recognized that this concept did only match to their society in its early stages. Especially after easing the immigration policy in 1965, the US government had to deal with problems of multiculturalism and the tension between various ethnic groups which kept on clinging to their native languages, forming large communities in order to prevent the loss of their national identity. Parallel to this developement new metaphors came to be used to describe the US society – the terms salad bowl, pizza, mosaic or even orchestra were „misused“ as some sort of sociological expressions. But although now there were many of those metaphors, the basic idea behind all of them was the same.

The concept of „e pluribus unum – one from many“ didn’t exist any longer – it gave way to models like „e pluribus plures“ – the idea of indifferent coexisting ethnic groups – or „e pluribus compositum“ – the idea of diverse groups which together form a new entity, just because of their singular qualities.

Hyperlinks / Additional information


  • Engel, Georg: Britain and America. Images and Perspectives. Berlin: Cornelsen, 1997. p. 34-37

  • Spann, Ekkehard: Abiturwissen Landeskunde Great Britain, United States of America. Stuttgart: Klett, Verlag für Wissen und Bildung, 1996. p. 50f.

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