From Melting Pot to Multicultural Nation: Hispanics Redefine Acculturation

By Dr. Juan Quevedo, Director of Research & Strategic Insight at IMAGES USA

The concept of the melting pot was viewed in the early 20th century as a process of Americanization that immigrants went through in their cultural integration to American society. An inevitable aspect of assimilating meant abandoning their native tongues and adopting English as their new language. By contemporary standards this happened rather swiftly, in one generation or less.

In today’s global world, Hispanics are giving a new meaning to the melting pot due to a combination of factors. This is the first immigration wave in our country’s history of such massive size, currently at 50.7 million, to whom success more and more means being bilingual.

Aiming to adapt to American culture, English is considered vital yet it coexists in harmony with Spanish, the language spoken at home by an evident majority: 75.5% (U.S. Census, 2010 ACS). This makes the U.S. the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world after Mexico (pop. 115 million).

Because of modern day advances, this is also the first time that an immigrant group encounters large pockets of population speaking their language. Add the ability to stay in touch with family in Latin American countries, a remarkable infrastructure of mass media in Spanish, the benefit of air travel and the ubiquity of the Internet, and you have a formidable case for the continuity of bilingualism as one of the legacies of Hispanic culture to the American melting pot.

An underlying trend brings added complexity: There is economic value in being bilingual. Due to sheer population size and spending power, many second and third generation Hispanics are retro-acculturating and learning Spanish, as well as growing numbers of non-Hispanic parents who insist that their children’s education include foreign languages.

We are clearly evolving from the society that Hispanic TV icon Jorge Ramos once described as “the only country in the world where it’s more important to speak one language than many”.

A host of circumstances strengthen the continuity of Hispanic culture and language, redefining acculturation toward biculturalism. As a nation we are embracing the value of being heterogeneous and growing to respect all the different cultures that give uniqueness to our national character.

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