America's National Identity

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

12 Pages, Grade: 2,0


List of contents

1. Introduction

2. The difficulty of finding a National Identity
2.1. First reason: Immigration
2.2. Second reason: Heterogeneity

3. Changing concepts of national identity in American history
3.1. The melting pot
3.2. Americanization
3.3. Anglo-Saxon racism
3.4. Cultural pluralism

4. Synopsis and outlook

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This term paper deals with the problematic question of America’s national identity.

Unlike other western countries the USA are a country that accommodates not only one ethnic group but an immense number of different nationalities. America is a multicultural society and is considered to be the world’s largest immigration country. Hence, its racial make-up is very heterogeneous and its composition is permanently changing. The American society is known for its varying cultural scenes because of the different ancestries of its inhabitants. That is why the US is often confronted with questions concerning their national identity. The main consideration of this term paper deals with the unanswered question of America’s national identity.

First of all the issues of immigration and heterogeneity are examined in order to explain why it is difficult to find a national identity in America. Further, different concepts of national identity are explained, among them the Melting Pot, Americanization, Anglo-Saxon Racism and Cultural Pluralism. These concept are investigated in terms of their general statements, current occurrence and if they are suitable for a common national identity.

2. The difficulty of finding a national identity

2.1. First reason: Immigration

The USA is a so called immigration country; hence, its inhabitants once were or even are immigrants from other countries. One can say that “the state arose from a democratic-cosmopolitan nation shaped largely by immigration”[1]. Therefore, the American population consists almost completely of people from different countries and diverse cultural backgrounds. It becomes clear that every American comes from someplace else and has at least a second cultural heritage[2] that makes the US to a unique multicultural nation. First of all it is important to know that America does not have a history comparable to European countries. Many centuries ago people from all over the world settled on the new found continent to start a new life. People were fascinated by the unknown country that seemed to be no man’s land and only waited to be taken possession of. Soon America was considered to be a country in which one’s dreams can become true and where the streets are paved with gold. The myth of the American Dream was born and thousands of immigrants entered the country in order to improve their lives. Therefore, over the years more and more immigrants came for a variety of reasons and from several different countries to the United States of America. Because of that the racial make-up of the country constantly changed.

For four centuries, the ethnic and racial composition of the United States has been

constantly changing picture, reflecting the varying sources of immigrants as well as the

different fertility and mortality of the native residents and the new immigrants.[3]

The USA is a country with one of the largest number of immigrants in the world. On the one hand immigration was favored by the positive American image. On the other hand it was favored by the lack of any laws and restriction which regulated the number of aliens who wanted to immigrate. “Until the latter half of the 1800s, [...] [t]he federal government [...] allowed unrestricted admission of aliens and the automatic qualification of immigrants and their children as citizens.”[4] Consequently, the number of immigrants increased steadily in the early years of the country. Each period was and still is characterized by different waves of immigration. “From historical perspective, the territory now known as the United States has experienced seven waves of immigrants, each distinguished by its particular ethnicity and places of origin.”[5] These waves of immigrants are responsible for the racial composition of the country to this day. “The first two waves of immigrants entered [...] in apparently quiet separate movements from Asia.”[6] Today these Asian immigrants are called Natives or Native Americans because they were the first settlers of the North American continent. “[The] third wave consisted of Spaniards [...].”[7] Since then, an immense number of Hispanics entered America in order to expand the Hispanic territory by founding new colonies. Today the Hispanic population is the largest minority group on the North American territory. “[...] [S]ettlers from England and primarily western and northern Europe provided the fourth major wave of immigrants.”[8] These, mostly Anglo-Saxon, immigrants achieved their independence by establishing their own country, today known as the United States of America. “Black immigrants arrived as slaves in a fifth immigrant wave [...].”[9] Because the American settlers needed many cheap workers, an incredible number of Blacks were shipped to America. Today the so called African Americans represent the second largest minority group in the US. “By the 1880s, the sources of European immigration shifted sharply, with the sixth wave of immigrants coming from the southern and eastern portions of Europe.”[10] On the one hand many intellectuals left their countries in order to search for new inspiration in the New World. On the other hand many Europeans tried to escape from the “dark cloud of European wars”[11], especially World War One and Two. “Now [...] the United States has experienced a seventh wave of immigrants, with immigrants coming predominantly from Asia and Latin America, the sources for the original three waves of immigrants.”[12] It becomes clear that the racial composition of the USA permanently changed and is still changing.


[1] Bade, Klaus J., Migration Past, Migration Future, p. 39

[2] cf. Freese, Peter: “Between Assimilation and Nativism”, p. 268

[3] Edmonston, Barry, Immigration and Ethnicity, p. 317

[4] Edmonston, Barry, Immigration and Ethnicity, p. 3

[5] Edmonston, Barry, Immigration and Ethnicity, p. 318

[6] Edmonston, Barry, Immigration and Ethnicity, p. 318

[7] Edmonston, Barry, Immigration and Ethnicity, p. 318

[8] Edmonston, Barry, Immigration and Ethnicity, p. 318

[9] Edmonston, Barry, Immigration and Ethnicity, p. 318

[10] Edmonston, Barry, Immigration and Ethnicity, p. 318

[11] Freese, Peter: “Between Assimilation and Nativism”, p. 250

[12] Edmonston, Barry, Immigration and Ethnicity, p. 318

[13] Bade, Klaus J., Migration Past, Migration Future, p. 39

Excerpt out of 12 pages


America's National Identity
University of Duisburg-Essen
A Survey of American History
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
453 KB
America, American Identity, national identity, Melting pot, Americanization, Immigration, USA, United States, American Dream, Assimilation, Cultural Pluralism
Quote paper
Katrin Appenzeller (Author), 2007, America's National Identity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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