My Short Essay

Mark C. McPhilimy
SBS 450: Migration and Culture
February 25, 2003

The Melting Pot

            The North and South American continents have been inhabited from ancient times by migrating humans. The first migrations are believed to have occurred by Asians who crossed the frozen Bering Strait from Siberia. When Columbus first crossed the great Atlantic Ocean he mistakenly labeled these natives ‘Indians’, believing he had arrived in India. Europeans then began migrating in mass to this ‘new world’ dividing up the lands of the aboriginals into nations. The greatest of these nations became the United States, which included peoples who had migrated mostly from Western Europe, slaves that had been brought over from Africa and the original natives. These new American citizens of European descent looked favorably upon immigration believing that it was necessary for a young nation to survive in a harsh world where old Europe still had its eye bent on conquering and controlling the Western Hemisphere. Yet such immigration was only desirable if the immigrants were Protestants that came from ‘civilized’ Europe. Africans, Chinese and even the Catholic Irish were considered undesirables and their immigrations were resented by much of the American electorate. Laws were even passed that would restrict these undesirable immigrations while encouraging immigration from European countries that were considered more capable of integrating into the fabric of American society. From the 1820’s until after World War II the overwhelming majority of immigrants were from Europe with less than ten percent of immigrants coming from non-European countries. Laws that were passed in the 1930’s minimized immigration to less than two million over the next twenty years. In the 1960’s immigration laws were again changed and this time it vastly increased the number of immigrants while also allowing vastly larger numbers of immigrants from non-European countries. By 1998 only fifteen percent of immigrants originated from Europe and Canada.1 Asia and Mexico have now become the largest exporters of peoples to the United States and this has caused a great debate amongst many in the American electorate as to whether these new immigrants can adapt to the fast-paced and highly demanding American culture, with all its norms regarding work, lifestyle and family. This essay will look at two immigrant groups, the Mexicans and Tongans, and examine American attitudes towards these two distinct non-European groups who have left their homelands in search of the American dream.

            Two nationalities that have seen large portions of their populations immigrate to the United States are Latino’s from Mexico and Tongans from the island Tonga in the South Pacific. Mexicans have been coming to the United States in search of a better life for decades but are often not educated enough to have a skill worth any potential to provide for their families in their home country. America, their neighbor to the north, has an abundance of low paying jobs that are often hard to employ amongst the American population. These jobs, such as in meat packing, restaurants or hotel services, are generally happy to employ these new immigrants yet often at minimal pay. However, the average hourly pay in the field of manufacturing is almost seven times higher than the equivalent job would pay in Mexico.1 Tongans were not fleeing their homeland for the same reasons as Mexicans. They are overwhelmingly literate, had many of the basic necessities of life and were not starving or running from civil strife in their homeland. However, many Tongans lived without running water nor did they have electricity in their homes.2 These immigrant’s search for a better life included the benefits that a modern technology-rich country, like America, could provide. Like the Mexicans, many of the Tongan immigrants take low skilled jobs washing dishes or cleaning hotel rooms. Tongans and Mexicans alike will settle in any town, be it a large city or small rural village, were jobs are available. Since a large part of the Mexican immigration involves illegal immigration, many Americans, seeing the rise of all these new non-European and non English-speaking immigrants, have become concerned and even outraged over the nation’s immigration policies and inability to control her borders. These people often fear that these immigrants do not have a desire to become truly loyal citizens of their new country and, thus, will not assimilate like past immigrant groups. The anti-immigrant crowd often communicates their fears by accusing the new immigrants of refusing to maintain their lawn or learn English. Since 9/11 the new charge that these immigrants may be potential terrorists has now become a rallying cry against liberal immigration policies. The result of this is that many Americans do not go out of their way to help the new immigrants assimilate. One example comes from a Tongan immigrant, “Nobody help me and Eseta. From that day I married until today, nobody help and I did not need any help. I can take care of my family”.3 Yet ironically this Tongan immigrant has learned the intrinsic American value of independent self-reliance. Another example of the American fear of the rise of non-European immigrants can be found in the most popular national magazines and the imagery these magazines chose to represent their articles. Imagery can be a powerful tool used both to sell their message and strengthen fears against America’s immigration policies.

The magazine covers on Mexican immigration begin with alarmist images and maintain that perspective during the entire thirty-five year period. Of the sixteen covers referencing Mexican immigration, fifteen have alarmist images and one is neutral. Alarm is conveyed through images and text that directly or metaphorically involve crisis, time bomb, loss of control, invasion, danger, floods, and war.4

It is often easier to use scary imagery than present a sound argument that new immigrant groups do not assimilate into productive and loyal American citizens. Such imagery can actually have the dangerous effect of preventing immigrants from assimilating by generating unsupported fears and resentments amongst the citizenry which can further isolate the immigrants from their new neighbors.

            The United States is a land of immigrants. All of the attacks against the current immigrating peoples have been rehashed from times past when they were labeled against the Irish, Italians, and Puerto Ricans. The German immigrants of yesteryear spoke no more English than the Mexican immigrants of today. America is a melting pot because of its abundant opportunities and freedoms. It seems likely that the attack against the new immigrating groups has more to do with their skin color than their potential to be loyal American citizens.


End Notes


1. The Arizona Republic. Dying To Work: the human face of illegal immigration.
     <> Updated
     2003. Cited 25, February, 2003.

2. Small, Cathy A. Voyages. London: Cornell University Press. 1997. p. 28

3. Small, Cathy A. Voyages. London: Cornell University Press. 1997. p. 62

4. Chavez, Leo R. Manufacturing Consensus on an Anti-Mexican Immigration
     Discourse. 2001. p.216




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