A Community of Cousins: Cultural Amalgamation
By: Jessica Ernster
E pluribus unum, meaning "out of many, one", is the salient aphorism exhibited on the Great Seal of the United States. This meaningful dictum represents the growing diversity of the American population and frames our nation's current mosaic: we are, and continue to develop into, a universal nation. Globalization can be described as the interplay of cultures, societies, economies, and political systems, and in fact, the United States serves as the principal arena for which this global reality has become glowingly apparent.
As a microcosm of America, Annandale represents a true cultural amalgamation, and has since its inception in 1685. The first to arrive were English, Scottish, and Irish settlers; not happy bedfellows in those days. Later, German and southern Europeans, followed by Hungarian refugees in the late 1950's, and Asian residents from multiple lands in the years after 1965.
Annandale became the second largest resettlement community for our Vietnamese comrades after the fall of Saigon. Cubans, fleeing Castro's regime, joined the ranks the same decade, followed by Central and South Americans escaping revolution and economic depravity. For more than three centuries, regardless of national origin, all have sought the same thing; personal, economic, and political freedom. This common resolve, along with the combination of cultural origins, traditions, cuisines, and customs have created a community of cousins here in Annandale, a diverse community of inclusion.
Within the last quarter century, globalization in the U.S. has been further stimulated by the arrival of tens of millions of immigrants from all parts of the globe, thereby constructing a so-called world house, or society of multinational inclusion directly on American soil. This process of cultural amalgamation introduces a host of compelling insights into contemporary American demographics, and humanity as a whole. Vietnamese-American journalis,t Andrew Lam, precisely captures this concept by asserting that, “In this age of porous borders, we must recognize the weight with which international customs and traditions have changed American society.”
Beginning with the colonial period, the U.S. was predominantly populated by individuals hailing from Europe. The initial surge ushered in the English, Scots, Irish, Germans, and French. The second swell of 1870, welcomed multitudes of Southern and Eastern Europeans. Up until 1892 when the Federal immigration installation was built on Ellis Island, immigration was regulated by individual states. By 1924, the National Origin System was implemented which again largely favored European immigration. It was not until 1965, with the passage of the Immigration & Nationality Act, did a significant Asian population find it possible to immigrate to the U.S.
Certainly, this extensive percolation of European migration has encouraged American citizens to accept, adapt, and adopt customs foreign to their own. While the first two waves of immigration successfully accelerated cultural diversity in the Unit-ed States, they also served as the prototype for the inevitable acculturation patterns brewing on the American horizon. Recent history exhibits evidence of the Easternization of America. A variety of aspects many Asian Americans once considered proprietary to their culture, have now inundated mainstream U.S. society. Moreover, a new hybrid culture illustrative of the fusion between East and West is a thriving element in our community, as eastern religions, cuisine, entertainment, medicines, and physical disciplines continue to proliferate our shores. According to Tu Weiming, a Confucian scholar at Harvard University, “We live in an era where, for the first time, various traditions exist alongside each other. Asia functions as a highly active ingredient in this heterogeneous interaction.”
In terms of faith and spirituality, Buddhism, originating in Asia, is a religion to some and a cultural concept to others who are primarily interested in meditation. Studies have indicated a Buddhist population in the United States of between 2 and 10 million. In Los Angeles, there are more than 300 Buddhist temples in operation, with plans to establish hundreds more within the next five years.
By way of Easternization, Asian-inspired alimentary traditions are perhaps the latest cultural conventions in the United States today. Less than a generation ago, who would have guessed that vittles such as sushi or pad Thai would become suburban favorites? Or that Siracha chili sauce would be a tabletop fixture at many Western restaurants? That Indian curry and basmati rice would be found on Aisle 9 at your local grocers? The introduction of Eastern recipes and mealtime traditions have changed the American palate. Bite by bite, our appetite for exotic gustations makes distant cities like Bombay, Bhutan, Beirut and Beijing that much closer to home. Our daily meals and holiday fare alike are enhanced by flavors from abroad.
Rudyard Kipling once wrote that, "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” This well-known expression gives a distorted view of modern American society. Centuries of mass migration across continents, and the human quest for building a truly global world house have led to the shores of America and, indeed, to the creation of this very successful ex-periment in democracy. The American Dream is grasped tightly by each new immigrant and each new citizen. The American tradition of inclusion and acceptance of diversity is challenged but ultimately upheld.
The United States has played a unique role in human history. No other nation has so successfully combined people of different races, religions, and nations within a single culture. We live in a country where the growing diversity of the American population serves as a formidable example of how a highly differentiated society has succeeded in preserving the traditional values indigenous to the cultures of its multinational citizens. Like the U.S. Constitution, cultural amalgamation breathes, changes and enriches American life on an on-going basis. Cultural amalgamation is one of America’s greatest legacies to the larger world house.
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