America’s Dominant Culture: a Creation made by our Nation’s Founders
The United States is a country like no other. As a nation, we have come a long way, cultural wise. We are a nation founded by immigrants. That notion continues to stand as a way of viewing the United States’ as a place that welcomes people from all over the world, people who share the hopes of obtaining the American dream in a land of opportunity. Throughout the course, we have learned about the immigrant narrative and what challenges immigrants face, the biggest being assimilation to the dominant culture. Many questions concerning the dominant culture then arise, the biggest likely regarding how it was first established and why it has remained so prominent in America.
The dominant culture of America is rooted from our nation’s founders; the Pilgrim Fathers. They are who define the dominant culture that the United States still presently has and that immigrants assimilate to. (Obj. 4) Their style and values are still reflected in modern time, one example being the Mayflower Compact which I will later discuss. The Pilgrims’ narrative is a unique one because there are similarities and differences between it and the typical immigrant narrative.
One major difference between the Pilgrims’ immigration to that of later immigrants is the manner in which they came to the United States. Unlike immigrants who journey to this nation either independently or with their immediate family, the Pilgrims’ voyage here was very different. They immigrated as a group and community with the intention of not assimilating to the dominant culture. In that time, this would have been that of the Native American Indians. The Pilgrims were able to resist assimilation because they had both power in numbers and education and as an advantage. They transplanted their culture instead of assimilating to the Indian culture that was already there. The Pilgrims immigrated to this land with the dead set attitude that they would stay true to their culture and beliefs given that they would be free to do so. This was their motivation and reason for leaving England in the first place.
As we read in Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, the Pilgrims left England and decided to move to The Netherlands because they heard that there, freedom of religion was practiced. They also longed for the more radical Protestant church community that imitated the simple, primitive style of the first churches founded by Christ’s apostles. This “plain style” is what characterizes the dominant culture of the United States today but we will come back to that later. Once they settled in The Netherlands, the Pilgrims experienced the same phases that of the standard immigrant narratives. They experienced the shock of the new culture and language, the challenge of assimilation and the difficulties of working hard against facing poverty. The Pilgrims decided to move once more, to America because they did not want to assimilate to the Dutch culture.
When the Pilgrims arrived to America, they became a prototype of the United States’ dominant culture, one which expects to be assimilated to. The Mayflower Compact, for this reason, is something that still remains treasured by American historians. It was very much like a preview of the United States’ Declaration and Constitution. Both sets of documents established a written system of laws and a social contract embodying self-governance and orderly freedom. When the Pilgrims encountered the Native Americans, something very interesting happened. As we saw with Objective 4, the Pilgrims had no intention of assimilating to the culture of the Indians. They ignored the Indians’ way of life, which they viewed as “savage” and irrelevant. This was so much the same manner in which the Jews established their culture in Canaan. The Jews migrated from Egypt to Canaan in the Bible’s Exodus story, which is our deep historical model for “national migration”. The Pilgrims saw no wrong in overtaking the Native Americans’ land because they modeled themselves after the Jews who were chosen by God to overtake the Promised Land. The Canaanites inhabited that land and when the Jews arrived, they were driven out. God said the Jews were to inhabit the land and not assimilate with the Canaanites. This meant no intermarriage as well. Like the Jews, the Pilgrims were not allowed to marry Native Americans and were expected to stay true to their Puritan ways.
As we discussed in the beginning, the Pilgrims Puritan culture was very plain opposed to anything that appeared too flashy or brought unnecessary attention. This type of style very much describes the present day United States’ culture. Immigrants that come to this land most often try and assimilate and blend in with the dominant culture. They avoid bringing too much attention to themselves by not wearing bright clothing or displaying any other flashy physical appearance. Chitra Divakaruni’s Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs, demonstrates a perfect example of this. The speaker, Jayanti, imagines a very dominant culture scenario. “In my Modern Novel class at the university, I sit dressed in a plaid skirt and a matching sweater. My legs, elegant in knee-high boots like the ones I have seen on one of the afternoon TV shows that Aunt likes, are casually crossed. My bobbed hair swings around my face as I spiritedly argue against the handsome professor’s interpretation of Dreiser’s philosophy.” (76) Jayanti is from India and so comes from a different culture. Her clothes and hair are different from the American dominant culture. She is eager to assimilate in different aspects of the dominant culture even though she already has in terms of education. Indian culture values education much like the Pilgrims and now dominant culture does. Indian-Americans are a distinguished group in the United States because they represent the model minority or ideal immigrant. In the narrative, Jayanti is a hard working study that comes from a stable and somewhat high-status family. There are many parallels that can be drawn between Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs and the Pilgrim narrative.
Jackie Baker’s WE are in Command of this Great Ship called America, states that “The DC will continue to be a complex culture to analyze because they are within themselves a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and “unmarked” styles. It is truly difficult for an immigrant to assimilate to the DC because all the channels for infiltration have gracefully intermarried into a culture that only exists in one place, America.” This was very well put. America’s dominant culture is hard to isolate, identify, and study as part of the multicultural landscape. Take the Scotch-Irish for example. They represent a major ethnic component of the United States’ dominant culture because of their northern European background, Protestantism, and their cultural and political conservatism. Multicultural studies however, find it difficult to identify and analyze their sub-culture because of their unique, confusing, and sometimes off-putting aspects of their profile or character. These aspects resemble that of the minority group. The Scotch-Irish are looked down by both the Puritans and Virginians for their clannishness, rowdiness, noisy hellfire religion, and indifference to manners or education. All of which differ from the plain style of the Puritans who value education greatly.
America’s dominant culture is something that is greatly rooted in this country but it is up to immigrants to decide whether or not to assimilate to it. Through out this course, we have learned that the easier path to take is to assimilate. It is in our human nature to want to fit into the dominant culture and not be an outcast. What is great about America is that it is extremely diverse and one has the freedom to choose what aspects of the dominant culture and immigrant culture one wants to retain.