How do immigrants adapt to American cultures

Self-image of the USA"American nationalism is contradicting itself"

Änne Seidel: What an outcry! The new American president imposes an entry ban on people from seven countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. And that's not all: Donald Trump now wants to get serious about the wall on the border with Mexico. And the existing immigration laws should be applied as strictly as possible in the future.

The USA isolates itself. And in this country some people rub their eyes: of all things, the USA, the country that is considered THE immigration country par excellence. The land that is known as the "melting pot", that is, as a melting pot of cultures; the country whose cultural DNA is said to have written: "We are an immigrant nation!"

All of this somehow does not fit in with what is currently happening in the USA - and this contradiction, we want to at least try to unravel it a little. Together with Simon Wendt, Professor of American Studies at the University of Frankfurt am Main. Mr. Wendt, have we completely misunderstood something - is immigration perhaps not so important for the self-image of Americans after all?

"American nationalism is contradicting itself"

Simon Wendt: It always depends on who you ask, and it depends on when you ask. Of course, the USA is a country that would not have been possible without immigration. However, today and in the history of the USA there are always moments in which isolation takes place or in which immigration is made more difficult. That is, American nationalism is contradictory in that it moves back and forth between a citizenship nationalism, which is about simply accepting the political values ​​of the country, and an ethnic nationalism, which is it is actually about more, namely a common culture, a common ethnic origin. And this latter form of nationalism has again and again become part of the American understanding of the nation and it is actually primarily about white, long-established Americans who are afraid of the influence of non-white or foreign immigrants.

Seidel: Does that mean that things are currently tilting again very much in the direction of this ethnic nationalism?

Wendt: Correct. Of course, especially the supporters of Donald Trump, who are made up of the majority of the country's white population, precisely these supporters are afraid of terrorism, are afraid of the influence of Islam in the USA and are therefore not as shocked at all as many Germans or Europeans , but rather advocate this isolation, which actually applies to relatively few people. So it is primarily a symbolic gesture that neither changes the threat potential nor has a very strong influence on immigration itself.

Seidel: Then maybe let's take a quick look back at history. When were there phases in the past in which the USA at least restricted or even thrown its self-image as an immigrant nation?

Wendt: Yes, there are a number of historical periods when immigration was seen as a problem. In the late 19th century, immigrants from Asia in particular were rejected and a law was passed that put a stop to these immigrants. And then in the 20th century, in the 1920s, a very strict quota system for immigrants was passed, which prevents, for example, people from southeast Europe, the majority of whom immigrated to the USA around 1900, from being excluded from this group. And that quota system ultimately existed until the 1960s when a new law was passed that abolished quotas and allowed many more immigrants to come into the country.

The phenomenon with nativism

Seidel: In other words, this targeted selection of immigrants, which Donald Trump is now doing again - people from the seven countries mentioned, who are not allowed to come, but others are - has something similar happened before?

Wendt: Yes. In fact, it's not exactly new in American history and always goes hand in hand with a phenomenon known as nativism, a movement primarily driven by those long-standing, white Americans who fear immigrants will die "American" culture pollutes, so to speak, and makes these white Americans feel alien in their own country.

Seidel: In summary, would you go so far as to say that the idea of ​​the USA as a country of immigration has always been more of a myth than a really lived reality?

Wendt: In any case, the myth was partly stronger than the reality that was actually lived. The idea of ​​this immigration country was ultimately what also led to the size of the country, albeit always with reservations to see that this nativism, which I have spoken of, keeps sticking its head up in certain periods of American history. In this respect, it remains to be seen whether this will lead to effects that were seen, for example, in the early 20th century. It is too early to say that right now.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.