The United States, the great melting-pot, is the archetypal model of how to assimilate immigrant communities. Richard Alba looks here at how these immigrants become integrated and their impact on American society.
The assimilation of the current wave of immigration into the United States is dominated by multiculturalism and racial and ethnic stratification. The three traditional models of integration -"assimilation", "racialization" and "pluralism"- are changing rapidly. Today, integration is occurring in spatial terms as groups of immigrants move out of ethnic minority neighbourhoods into middle class residential areas where the majority population is white. In addition, integration is altering the mainstream (ethnic majority), which is taking on some of the immigrants' characteristics. In this way the distinctively ethnic characteristics are gradually disappearing. Lastly, among the latest generations of children of immigrants, many processes are at work to foster mobility (economic, social and cultural), and these are helping to blur the boundaries between ethnic groups.
In the future, the racial and social segmentation of American society could well become less marked, above all as a result of increasing numbers of mixed marriages and greater acceptance of mixed ancestry.
However, Alba concludes, the blurring of boundaries will depend on how well educated the immigrants are, their ethnic characteristics and geographical distribution. How well people are integrated will vary from group to group, and racial and social inequalities are likely to persist in American society.