Adam Goodman, “Nation of Migrants, Historians of Migration,” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Summer 2015): 7-16.
Donna Gabaccia, “‘Is Everywhere No Where?’ Nomads, Nations, and the Immigrant Paradigm of American History,” Journal of American History, Vol. 86, No. 3 (December 1999): 1115-34.
Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (2nd ed., Princeton University Press, 2017).
Extra: Julian H. Steward, Theory of Culture Change: the methodology of multilinear evolution. (University of Illinois Press, 1972).
America’s myth of being a melting pot has long been a point of pride or consternation in our national identity (Gerstle 2017, 3). But while teaching English in Taiwan, I preferred to use the analogy of America as a ‘hot pot’ – a soup that tastes delicious together, but where all of the ingredients, (in this case cultural groups) remain separate entities. This was supported by Goodman’s article, which also dismantles America’s melting pot myth, positing that WASPs were privileged as non-European immigrants were viewed as secondary actors (8).
Though some anthropologists, such as universal evolutionists, attempt to analyze culture through area types, and might define the whole of America as a ‘culture’, I prefer to use Stewart’s lens of national groups as supra-individual institutions, and understanding that unlike in early hunter and gatherer groups, no individuals can encompass entire national patterns (Stewart 1975, 46).
This is relevant to my research in that while examining the assimilation of any ethnic minority into a national group, they are absorbing the characteristics of the first sub-group they encountered, and secondly the supra-individual institutional values, such as liberty, individual rights, and national arts; what Gerstle claimed to make us American (2017, 4).
Gabaccia studies Italian migration underlines the “tyranny of the national” (1117) and migration to understand how history produces nations. To me, the author demonstrates how important the authory of history is, because historical ‘facts’ are told from the point of view of someone, no matter how god-like and ‘objective’ they attempt to be. For example, Gabaccia points out that American historians view migration as immigration, whereas European scholars viewed is as emigration (1118). This pertains to our research project in order to be as transparent as possible regarding our own backgrounds.
Going forward, it will be important to remember the research subject’s backgrounds. Were they part of the privileged group of immigrants? How does our national story shape our, as researchers, perceptions of them? What do we view as the ‘dominant culture’ that they seemingly need to assimilate into, and how does this vary from other subcultures? These questions must be at the forefront of our minds as we embark on this research project.