What is American culture? We know it is freedom of expression, but for whom is it the land of opportunity? Who does the law of the land protect? There has been a continual racial problem between “we”, the European white population, and “they”, the people of color, first as slaves from Africa. The Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s was instrumental in focusing on all races being treated equally in society, along with the Chicano and Indian Movements at that time.
The United States has been experiencing a major wave of immigration, mostly by peoples of color. In the past, assimilation has been the most influential belief system, or the “melting pot.” Today, we must take a pause, with the outrage from nativists, and legislation such as Proposition 187 in California, to take a look at the pluralistic view; that is, viewing American society as a collection of ethnic and racial minority groups, and a majority group of European Americans. We must respect each ethnic group, and allow them to celebrate their culture. We must view ethnicity as an asset, not a liability, particularly in politics. We must all be aware of the truths of these new immigrants, as expressed in each immigrant’s interview-the push and pull that brought this person to the United States.
Immigration created multiracial and multicultural nations; it has been voluntary or involuntary, and herein lies the distinction. European settlers to this country was mostly voluntary; African-American settlers were coerced and enslaved, as were the Puerto Ricans, who were originally won in conquest and annexed to this country. Refugees who escaped persecution have also been coerced. Events were not of their making. The debate today is whether immigrants constitute a burden to this country, or do they contribute more than they cost; this causes them to be the scapegoats for America’s problems. We must educate our students and peers as to the facts of this debate, and not rely on the distortions of the media.
The fourth grade students of my schools have participated in a dialogue with imaginary immigrants from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. They have learned a little bit about each country’s geography and history, and the push and pull of emigrating-why did these people leave, how hard was it for them here, and what things did they have to change.
They expanded their understanding of different peoples by participating in different styles of music of countries in the Caribbean, and some crossover American styles-the habanera rhythm, a steel band, salsa, contemporary popular Latin songs, a Cuban rumba, a Dominican Republic meringue, a Puerto Rican plena, and the chachacha.