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“Mosaic” versus “Melting Pot”: Passing the Mantle of “A Nation of Immigrants”

Written by Francesca Speed.

On November 8th, the United States elected Donald Trump as its forty-fifth president. Just six days earlier, the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, ending a record-setting 108-year drought. The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Israel Zangwill’s The Melting Pot had just made its theatre debut, and with the election of Trump, one must ask whether the era of using “the melting pot” as a metaphor for the multiculturalism of American society has come to an unceremonious end.

Whether it meant to or not, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election well and truly put immigration in its place. After all, the United States, the “melting pot”, the “nation of immigrants”, had just elected (or, at least, the Electoral College did) a candidate who ran on promises of closing the borders to all Muslim migrants, be they seeking permanent resettlement or just temporary travel, of deporting millions of illegal immigrants with criminal records, and building a wall across the southern border of the United States.

Following the election, it became apparent that “whiteness” was the key factor amongst those who voted for the new President-elect. His “Make America Great Again” catchphrase reminded them of a time when “white” was the dominant racial characteristic, and when white masculinity, especially, was defiantly privileged above all else. Today, they are faced with a demographic shift that will increasingly position them in the minority, and when the Hispanic vote is spoken of as being the key contest for election candidates in the future. In voting for Trump, for those who did based entirely, or in part, on his platform of racism and xenophobia, those Americans have declared that “the melting pot” is not a synonym for a society that they want any part of.

Image result for justin trudeauMeanwhile, to the north, Canada has admitted 35,147 Syrian refugees since November 4th. In contrast to the “melting pot”, Canada has put forward the “mosaic” metaphor for its domestic population – rather than melt old identities down to make something new, immigrants simply slot into Canadian society, free to keep their ethnic identities, religions, languages and customs for it is all these factors that make up the bigger picture of what Canada is.

Canada has its faults: the grass isn’t always greener. Indigenous peoples in Canada are still fighting to be heard, and those who arrived in the first wave of the Canadian government’s refugee program are facing an end to their federally-sponsored time in their new homeland. Hundreds of Chinese immigrants in British Columbia are today facing deportation after lying on documents for citizenship and permanent residency.

But it looks better; so much so to some people that the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website crashed following the election result in the United States. If America is currently the racist uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, Canada is the enlightened college student who celebrated the previous month.

How many of, and to what extent, Trump’s policies of exclusion actually reach fruition will be a question for the history books. His plan to deport eleven million illegal immigrants has already been reduced to the two- to three-million with criminal records. By contrast, the previous Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, faced significant criticism in 2015 following his comments that Muslim women taking the oath of citizenship should not be permitted to wear a niqab that covers the face. This contributed to his ousting from office in the national elections later that year. America’s claim to the “nation of immigrants” has survived under threat before, with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the exclusion of Asia immigrants in the early twentieth century, and the more general restrictions that lasted right up until the Immigration Act of 1965. One should question, though, whether recent events will finally bring an end to America’s claim to this moniker, especially in the face of concerted efforts from its – often overlooked – northern neighbour to wrest the label from its hands. It is likely that the United States will have to fight to retain its self-appointed title, lest it lose its status as the “nation of immigrants” and be forced to pass the mantle to Canada, which is so often painted simply as an extension of its superpower ally. It is clear Canada is mounting a serious challenge for the title of the “nation of immigrants” – whether or not it succeeds, however, is something that only time will tell.

Francesca Speed is currently undertaking an MRes in the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham. Francesca’s research examines the manner in which American and Canadian intelligence and security services have responded to multiculturalism in the context of domestic counter terrorism operations. Image credit: Wikipedia Commons.

Published inConflict & SecurityHumanitarianismInternational RelationsUSA

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