The United States was formed from an influx of immigrants. People began migrating to the U.S. over four centuries ago, and to date there have been tens of millions of immigrants.
The first major immigration wave, which happened to be relatively small, began in the 17th century. This is sometimes referred to as the settler’s wave. The main goal was farming and agriculture. Along with the settlers there were workers, too. Many people came as servants, with contracts for their work to be done in exchange for ownership of small pieces of land later on.
The next wave is called the mass migration period, which lasted from around 1820 to 1880. Just in that time frame alone there were over 15 million immigrants arriving in America. Then the wave became a flood. It is said that there were approximately 25 million new immigrants during this time frame.
In the following decade, immigration started to receive the negative rap it currently has. According to America.gov, “By the 1890s, many Americans, particularly from the ranks of the well-off, white, native-born, considered immigration to pose a serious danger to the nation’s health and security.”
This is when new laws were put in place to regulate immigration. The flood gates were closing to some extent. The National Origins Act which was first drafted in 1921 placed restrictions on the numbers of immigrants permitted to enter the U.S. It also took into consideration the person’s national origin.
Then the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 was drafted. It still restricted immigrant access, but was based on job skills and family. Those with a higher chance of entering the country were either skilled laborers or already had a family living here. Their previous background was not taken into consideration.
America would not exist without immigration. America.gov states that “Immigration, however, played a key role not only in making America’s development possible but also in shaping the basic nature of the society.”
While most people know America and what eventually became known as the “United States” as the “melting pot,” it can be considered a myth. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a melting pot as “a place where a variety of races, cultures, or individuals assimilate into a cohesive whole.” In the early 20th century, the United States was experiencing “the largest influx of immigrants in its history – Irish and Germans, followed by Italians and East Europeans, Catholics and Jews – some 18 million new citizens between 1890 and 1920.” (Washington Post). However, some may argue that in the U.S., all the cultures and races in the country have not been together to become a “whole.” One of the reasons for this is because most immigrants who come to this country prefer to keep their own culture close to their heart, no matter where they live. One way of looking at this is by observing the little “towns” that are spread throughout the country, such as “Chinatown” in San Francisco and several “Korea Towns” across the country. Not only this, but ethnic food (such as Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian) is very popular in the United States.
Sometimes the U.S. is considered a “salad bowl” instead of a “melting pot.” A “salad bowl” is best described when “…you hold onto your culture even after you arrive, and don't take on the characteristics of the new society, so that you have a mixture of a lot of different things, but you can still tell them apart like in a salad” (wiki.answers.com). Some people may argue that America is not a “melting pot” because of the history of segregation in the country, showing that there have been many times in U.S. history when the idea of a melting pot seemed impossible. This sheds a negative light on the idea of America’s melting pot, but since many immigrants prefer to take on a dual cultural identity (American as well as their country of origin’s culture), a “salad bowl” can easily be applied to the United States history with immigration.