Between Melting Pot and Mosaic: African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the New York Political Economy

Between Melting Pot and Mosaic: African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the New York Political Economy

Between Melting Pot and Mosaic: African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the New York Political Economy

Between Melting Pot and Mosaic: African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the New York Political Economy

Excerpt

New York has spawned more than its share of metaphors. The most compelling of these allude to the city's status as a locus of racial and ethnic relations. Numerous writings and works of art, extensive theorizing, social research, and policy analysis are all bent on endorsing, amending, or debunking the idea that U.S. and, particularly, New York society has evolved from "melting pot" to "mosaic."

The power of the melting pot image resides less in its historical accuracy than in the fact that so many people have taken it to be true. Myths and legends have a life of their own. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the view persisted well into the twentieth century that New York was a giant cauldron homogenizing all newcomers into a single entity. The orthodox view believed in a natural progression from immigration to settlement to assimilation, resulting in a common identity as Americans. The idea had a tenacious grip on the American imagination.

For this reason, the revisionism that began with Nathan Glazer and Daniel Moynihan Beyond the Melting Pot (1963) had a profound influence. Questioning the conventional myth was bound to raise eyebrows, but it was an appropriate response to the obvious fact of ethnicity's continuing resiliency in postwar New York.

Glazer and Moynihan attempted to show that immigrant groups (and their descendants) do not necessarily jettison their cultural baggage in the settlement process. Instead of dissolving into a single entity, they compete intensely, and ethnic identity and language continue to figure in their political, social, and economic activities. The authors also pointed out that the vitality of ethnic identity is nothing to be alarmed about. In fact, part of America's uniqueness is its capacity to accommodate a multiplicity of heritages. What binds disparate people together is the democratic ideal and freedom of opportunity. In the long run . . .

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