- Toppling the Melting Pot: Immigration and Multiculturalism in American Pragmatism by José-Antonio Orosco
José-Antonio Orosco. Indiana UP, 2016.
José-Antonio Orosco’s Toppling the Melting Pot: Immigration and Multiculturalism in American Pragmatism carefully documents an expansive history of US anti-immigrant rhetoric dating back to the late nineteenth century. Along with its historical tracing, this work contributes great depth to current debates on immigration.
The book focuses on writers described as US American philosophers including Horace Kallen, Louis Adamic, W. E. B. Du Bois, Josiah Royce, Jane Addams, and Cesar Chavez. Their works are meant to deliver a pragmatic conceptual framework on US immigration and interculturalism, a term Orosco [End Page 121] favors against popular assimilatory values. Following this frame of analysis, Orosco explains the ways in which US American pragmatists have “toppled” the melting pot metaphor to “make room in our political imagination for alternative political models, and new vocabularies for democratic community that would preserve, and be invigorated by, the presence of immigrants and other ethnic or cultural minorities” (4). His work uses the aforementioned intellectuals to provoke a shift in the public debate on immigration that would counter the “immigrant threat narrative” and market-driven incentives toward a discussion on how immigrants enrich US society. This process of enrichment remains ongoing as various cultural and ethnic groups entering the United States continue to interact within and across communities by exchanging values and customs. Orosco’s approach reorients the discussion to consider immigrants as civic actors engaging in intercultural exchange to emphasize how they enrich the “habits of the heart”1 and generate an appreciation for immigrants in a democratic pluralist society.
To begin the text, Orosco provides readers with a genealogy of the melting pot discourse that deepens his efforts to debunk the melting pot ideology active in modern immigration debates. In chapter 1, he describes “Three Models of the Melting Pot”: the Anglo-Saxon conformity model, which promotes a fixed-nationalist US identity based on Anglo-Saxon racial allegiance; the fusion model, which holds a hybridized multicultural approach to US American identity that compels immigrants to abandon their heritages and transform themselves to create a new identity; and the Americanization model, in which immigrants are expected to acculturate to the ideas and conceptions associated with the United States as a cultural nationalist identity. Orosco contends that each model imposes unrealistic obligations upon immigrants. Moreover, the models have material impacts that harm the moral dignity of immigrants and cultural minorities in the United States.
The second chapter, “Cultural Pluralism and Principles of Pragmatist Solidarity,” analyzes Kallen’s critique of the three versions of the melting pot ideal to illuminate the racist principles that coerce immigrants into rebuking their heritages. Kallen introduces the alternative metaphor of an “orchestra” to describe the interaction of cultures in an (ideally) harmonious plurality. This notion of cultural pluralism, as Orosco shows, is too narrow for a discourse on immigration and multiculturalism. Orosco then turns to John Dewey’s concept of cultural pluralism, which is marked by three principles: the “Principle of Cultural Group Flourishing,” the “Principle of Cultural Contribution,” and the “Harm Prevention Principle.”
These principles frame the analysis of immigration, democracy, and cultural pluralism in the next three chapters of the book. In “From Plymouth [End Page 122] Rock to Ellis Island: Louis Adamic and Cultural Flourishing,” Orosco examines notions put forth by Adamic that help illustrate Dewey’s “Principle of Cultural Group Flourishing” through labor and immigrant movements. Adamic was critical of the Anglo-Saxon model and notions of tolerance that tend to diminish cultural group flourishing. He experienced this as a Slovenian immigrant in the United States and argued that group flourishing and solidarity require an appreciation of difference and acceptance.
In chapter 4, Orosco reads W. E. B. Du Bois as a US pragmatist to illustrate Dewey’s principle of cultural contribution. Orosco brings attention to Du Bois’s critique of biological notions of race that undergird white supremacy. Orosco deploys Du Bois’s notion of race as well as the concept of racial “gifts” in a parallel analysis of the...