What Is the Dominant Culture?
Before we can address the question of assimilation, we must first identify the dominant culture that will be assimilating the minority cultures. The general perception is that the Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture, or the WASPS, is the dominant culture of the United States. More specifically, the Anglo-Saxons created this narrative, that they are the dominant culture, soon after the original thirteen colonies began to expand. “E Pluribus Unum” or, out of many there is one, is the motto that is on most of the US coins in your pocket today. The Latin phrase is the battle cry of those demanding that immigrants assimilate.
However, is the notion that the WASPS are the dominant culture, supported by the empirical evidence? Manifest Destiny was created and embarked upon by the dominant cultural identity of that time, the Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. There is also no denying that English is the dominant language of the nation. However, it is also impossible to deny that Spanish is spoken in vast parts of the United States. As a matter of fact, Spanish is the dominant language in many parts of the country. A 2013 Pew Research study shows that Spanish is spoken by more than 38 million individuals. Spanish speakers have grown by 233% since 1980, according to the research by Pew. As of 2015, there are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are citizens of Spain. In other words, more US residents speak Spanish than the number of people who come from Spain, the birthplace of the Spanish language.
Therefore, we must ask the question, is language the defining element for the dominant culture?
Sociologists likely have their academic metrics to define culture, however the debate raging today in the United States is not a sociological one, but rather one of language and ideals. Through observation, or, the empirical evidence, we must answer the debate about assimilation. Speaking English is central to the debate. Language is an element of culture, like education, morals and economics, among others. Additionally, most of those who argue that immigrants assimilate include speaking English as a central element of the assimilation process. However, language is not the sole determining factor for assimilation. Therefore, let us set the language issue aside for the moment and focus on another aspect of cultural identity, central to the debate – food.
Food is fundamentally culturally based, although economics plays a part of it. If you hear apple pie, everyone will relate that to the United States. Some, may even realize that it epitomizes the Anglo-Saxon culture. Even more so, is the food of the Thanksgiving Day holiday. So engrained into the US culture is the Thanksgiving Day holiday that El Paso, a few years back, embarked on the misguided attempt to hijack that cultural Anglo-Saxon iconography by creating the notion that the first Thanksgiving Day holiday happened on what is now part of the US-Mexico border.
Peeling away the politically correct language it soon becomes clear that the Thanksgiving Holiday is not really about celebrating a collaboration between Native Americans and pilgrims. Rather, it is a cultural identity cementing the establishment of the pilgrim colony that eventually morphed into the United States. It is the foundation stone of the US, if you will. Thanksgiving is more iconography than a historical occurrence.
Interestingly, it is the notion of immigrant assimilation that was an underlining element that led certain individuals in the El Paso community, to attempt to hijack the Thanksgiving iconography. It was an attempt to resolve an identity crisis by a culture constantly bombarded with a narrative about what it is to be part of the United States.
The turkey, that has just emerged from the oven, is one dominant iconography that defines the US. Just as the turkey defines the Anglo-Saxon identity, so does the taco define the other culture that is a significant part of the country. Although the Mexican culture is not the only Hispanic culture represented in the United States, it is arguably, the dominant Hispanic culture of the country.
Anyone will be hard-pressed to find anyone in the United States that does not know what a taco is. Tacos have been well incorporated into the culture of even Anglo-centric communities. The taco may not resemble what most think of as a taco, but almost all US residents have eaten, or seen one form or another of what is commonly known as a taco.
However, there is another iconic food that almost all US residents are aware of and that is the fajitas. Although not a Mexican dish, it was invented in the US, fajitas are as representative of the Mexican culture in the US, as turkeys are to the Anglo-Saxon identity. The thing about fajitas is that not only do they represent the Mexican culture but they also epitomize the fusion of the Anglo-Saxon culture with that of the other predominant culture – the Mexican one. Fajitas is the fusion of both cultures, as expressed through food. They are uniquely a US concoction, an expression of the multi-culturalism of the United States. Not the multi-culturalism of immigrants but the multi-culturalism that resulted from the expansion of the United States through Manifest Destiny.
There are other examples of Mexican cultural influences all over the United States. They range from piñatas, the Spanish language to even the names of prominent US cities and states. However, the most poignant example is revealed while examining any map of the United States from the 1800’s, to today’s map of the country. That examination will quickly reveal that west of what was then the United States – the thirteen original colonies – was a vast continent of Spanish and French language speakers. South of what was then the United States also lay a territory whose language was Spanish. The Spanish speakers outnumbered the other languages by a significant percentage.
The language subject now leads us the question of whether English is the key to an assimilated immigrant. I’ll delve into that in tomorrow’s edition.