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1 1 From Melting Pot to Simmering Stew Acculturation, Enculturation, Assimilation, and Biculturalism in American Racial Dynamics On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the fortyfourth president of the United States. Although he was heralded as the first African American to serve in the highest and most powerful position in the nation (and perhaps in the world), President Obama’s cultural heritage was more subtle and complex. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to an American mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, whose family (in Wichita, Kansas ) was primarily of English descent, and Barack Obama Sr., a Luo from Nyang’oma Kogelo, Nyanza Province, Kenya. His father and mother married in 1961 and divorced in 1964, after which his father returned to Kenya. After her divorce, Dunham married Indonesian student Lolo Soetoro. In 1967 they moved the family to Indonesia, where Barack attended schools in Jakarta from ages six to ten. He finished his schooling (grades five to twelve) in Honolulu while living with his maternal grandparents. Thus, not only was Obama of mixed race, but he also grew up in a state where more than 25 percent of the population reports a heritage of two or more races. The multicultural environment in Hawaii influenced his cultural perspective . Obama wrote, That my father looked nothing like the people around me ​ — ​ that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk ​ — ​ barely registered in my mind. . . . The opportunity that Hawaii offered ​ — ​ to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect ​ — ​ became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear. (Obama 1995) This mixed-race heritage and multicultural childhood provided the foundation for Obama to become the first biracial and bicultural president . His campaign appealed to young voters and minorities. Overall, 68 Smokowski_pp001-058.indd 1 10/27/10 1:25:23 PM 2 From Melting Pot to Simmering Stew percent of voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine years cast their ballots for Obama, versus 30 percent of that age group who supported John McCain (Hebel 2008). Fifty-two percent of the 30- to 44-year-olds supported Obama. Final exit-poll tallies indicated that Obama won the Asian American vote 62 percent to 35 percent, the Latino vote 67 percent to 31 percent, and the African American vote 90 percent to 10 percent (Chen 2009). Certainly, Obama’s biracial heritage and multicultural skills catalyzed a trend among younger generations and allowed him to connect with diverse groups of voters. He is widely praised for his ability to listen to many perspectives and seek common ground in making decisions. Further raising the visibility of biculturalism in the United States, Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 6, 2009, as the first Latina Supreme Court justice. Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, to Juan Sotomayor, who was from the area of Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Celina Báez from Santa Rosa in Lajas, a rural area on Puerto Rico’s southwest coast. Spanish was her first language and her family regularly visited Puerto Rico to see relatives during the summers. Sotomayor became fluent in English later in childhood, and was inspired to pursue a legal career through reading Nancy Drew novels and watching Perry Mason on television. The life stories of Obama and Sotomayor encapsulate many of the themes in bicultural development. Both of these individuals grew up in racially diverse environments with meager resources and single parents who were determined to get their children ahead through education and hard work. Obama and Sotomayor both struggled through a process of cultural identity development, but eventually were able to navigate within and across complex institutional settings, engaging disparate groups of people with their sophisticated communication skills and insight into complicated social issues. Having succeeded in meeting the many challenges inherent in the acculturation process (e.g., learning new languages, coping with discrimination , adopting norms and behaviors to meet the needs of different cultural situations), Obama and Sotomayor serve as examples of the twenty-first-century bicultural American Dream that is characterized by maintaining one’s cultural roots while successfully meeting the demands of the larger sociocultural system. Although Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor are currently two of the most famous biracial, bicultural people in the United States, they represent millions of other bicultural people. U.S. Census data from 2000 show that 1.9...


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