"What then is the American, this new man?... He becomes an American by being received into the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world."
Great changes have certainly come, but the notion of the U.S. as a homogeneous mono-social soup no longer fits the facts. The flaw in the melting-pot definition of America is its tacit assumption that acculturation takes places only in one direction, and that the nation newcomers assimilate into is a static, fixed entity. What Santorum and other melting-pot metaphorians fail to understand is that the pot, in effect, also melts.
Throughout U.S. history, when immigrants have brought the flavors and textures of their homelands into the process of becoming American, the encounter has been mutually beneficial — and mutually transformational. The ability of the American mainstream to accommodate new groups into its political and social fabric has always led to a reformulation — and redefinition — of the mainstream itself. This dynamic relationship between perimeter and core, insider and outsider, is what allows America to absorb immigrants without sacrificing its stability or social cohesion. The mutual transformation of native and newcomer is the active ingredient in the American social experiment.
In fact, a close look at the results of the 2010 census shows that Hispanics and other multicultural populations are evolving in ways that have nothing in common with pots or salads. The census reveals a steep rise in the percentage of respondents who selected one or more race or ethnicity, reflecting a new form of identity that is contextual, multidimensional, and malleable.
As America's Hispanic population becomes increasingly native born, they will expand the ranks of those who reject labels and definitions that no longer describe them. They will speak English, and, if they're lucky, several other languages, too. They will continue to mingle and mix with Asians, African-Americans and whites; and they will use technology to explore and express their individual identity and reach out to communicate and collaborate across national and ethnic borders, further redefining not just what it means to be Hispanic, but also what it means to be American.
In an age where social media, instant language translation software and online avatars are melding and blurring the boundaries between race, ethnicity, and nationality, people are not so much melting as they are morphing, merging, and mashing.
Young Americans see no contradiction in being many things at once, and they can reinvent themselves at will, instantly and globally. They don't need to melt to know that this country is big enough for all of us.
Guy Garcia is a contributing producer on social and demographic trends for the Huffington Post and the author of The New Mainstream: How the Multicultural Consumer is Transforming American Business (Harper Collins). He and his work have appeared in Time magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Fortune, Vanity Fair, Ad Age, The Financial Times, The Times of London, ABC, Univision, NPR, CNBC, CNN Money, and PBS.