or Equality? Multiculturalism and Postmodernity in the Assessment of a
'Nation of Immigrants'"
In his "Hyphen Nation: The Politics of Diversity in 'a Nation of Immigrants', 1965-2000,"1 Matthew Frye Jacobson analyzes the influence of immigration on the construction of American nationhood. He concentrates on "post-1965 nativism," the revival of the cultural European background of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. (This was the reversal of the previous abandonment of immigrants' original backgrounds on behalf of an 'American' identity.) In this way, people stopped calling themselves 'Americans' to become 'Jewish-Americans', 'Italian-Americans', etc.: identifications began to be, indeed, "hyphened." Frye Jacobson challenges the idea of the 'melting pot' (a homogeneous society in which particular ethnic backgrounds give place to an all-encompassing identity), as he claims that, far from being homogeneous, North American society is composed of particular and differentiated ethnic groups that preserve their original cultural backgrounds.
Post-1965 nativism, in Frye Jacobson's view, adopted the language and imagery of the Civil Rights movement. African-Americans had begun to take pride in their cultural background and claimed equality on the grounds that they were as much a part of America as whites were. The descendants of European immigrants adopted the language of the Civil Rights movement to assert their own ethnicity and, in the process, expressed their resentment at the increasing equality of blacks. As a result, European ethnic revival has played an important role in affirmative action debates, as post-1965 nativists have opposed their own claims to acceptance in U.S. society to those of blacks.
1. Paper presented at the University of Maryland, College Park, on December 4, 2000. The conference (under the title of "Hyphen Nation: The Ethnic Revival and the Politics of Diversity since 1965") was coordinated by Gary Gerstle.