What is Cultural Amalgamation?

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  • 0:00 Defining Cultural Amalgamation
  • 1:03 Cultural Amalgamation…
  • 2:56 The Problem of Amalgamation
  • 4:19 Amalgamation and Assimilation
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
For centuries, immigrants have helped shape the culture of the United States by blending their cultures with the larger American culture. Through this lesson, you will learn how cultural amalgamation was intended to aid in this process, and you'll explore some of the problems with the theory.

Defining Cultural Amalgamation

When you think about the different aspects of your culture like music or food, do you ever wonder where they originated? For example, if you live in the United States or Canada, you're likely familiar with the popularity of Chinese or Mexican food. Despite their names, these foods are often quite different from the foods actually prepared in China or Mexico. Rather, they are a product of American culture that is the result of cultural amalgamation.

Cultural amalgamation is a term that refers to two or more cultures blending together to create a new, unique culture. This concept is sometimes referred to as the melting pot theory because the objective is for the individual pieces of each culture to become indistinguishable once they have blended with the others. For instance, if you were making a soup, you would add different ingredients to your stock. The goal is not to be able to taste individual ingredients, but rather to create a distinct flavor that results from blending those ingredients.

Cultural Amalgamation in the U.S.

The U.S. population is made up of people from many different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. All groups of immigrants have their own heritage, which is the traditions, values, and practices that comprise the culture from which they have come. Historically, this diversity has created something of a problem when it came to unifying the people and creating an American culture. After all, you can't have a single culture if everyone remains committed to their own ancestral heritage rather than becoming an American.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the American cultural majority, in response to a substantial increase in immigration from Europe, began to promote the concept of cultural amalgamation. This was intended to preserve the existing culture and create a unified population. New immigrants were expected contribute pieces of their culture to the American culture, rather than continue to practice a foreign culture in the United States.

A good example of this process can be seen in American music, including blues, jazz, and country. These are considered to be quintessentially American styles of music, yet they didn't come out of nowhere. For example, blues music evolved from the folk and spiritual music of Africa and the Caribbean Islands, brought by slaves and later by free black people who adapted their music for their new environment. In this case, an important aspect of African culture was brought to the United States, where it was blended with the larger culture and eventually became what we know it to be today.

Another good example is inter-ethnic marriages. In many cultures around the world, it is expected that one will marry within their own ethnic or racial group. However, in the United States and other Western countries, it is entirely common for an Arabic person to marry a non-Arab, or for an Italian to marry a Jew. These marriages bring together two distinctly different ethnic and cultural backgrounds into one family unit, blending the traditions and cultural practices into one.

The Problem of Amalgamation

In theory, the melting pot was intended to unify the American people and make immigrants feel as though they could contribute to American culture, rather than abandon their own heritage. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out so simply.

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