ABSTRACT every field of America such as history,


It is well-known that American history is the history of immigration and diversity. Throughout the history of thousands of years, the United States has experienced and welcomed successive waves of immigration from different parts of the world, particularly from Europe. When mentioning America, we all know that this is “a nation of immigrants” as immigration has become a significant and peculiar feature of this country and undoubtedly it has great influence on every aspect of America in terms of politics, economy, security and especially culture and custom. Despite the vast papers and research on the impact of immigration on various fields, American culture and society are probably the key and most prominent aspects of immigration’s influence since the image of the American and their ways of life today are reflected in American culture and tradition. This analysis typically shows the considerable contributions of immigrants to American culture through language, arts, sciences, cuisines, cultural values and so on as well as drawbacks that immigrants have affected American culture throughout their acculturation and assimilation to American society. The purpose of this paper is to focus on the cultural impact of immigration on the American and give a deeper understanding of this.

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1.1  Rationale

The United States of America has been long known to be one of the greatest countries in the world with long history and background. Moreover, as America is the country of immigrants and its history began with waves of immigrants, immigration is considered to be a key aspect of American history and identity. Therefore, immigrants have played an important part of this country and we can see the contributions and participation of these people in almost every field of America such as history, politics, economy, culture, education and science. It is true that immigrants and their children settling in the US is of great importance to the well-being and prosperity of the US. During their integration and assimilation into the US, they simultaneously introduce their own cultures and traditions to the US so America culture is the combination of tradition and custom from both native Americans and immigrant people originating from different continents in the world. In other words, one specific thing that every immigrant brings with them is their culture. For this reason, America is often called “a melting pot” and this is a metaphor for a society where many different types of people blend to live together as one.  In fact, while there are much consideration and research on the impact of immigrants regarding the economic, political facets, research on cultural impact is also another side that draws everyone’s attention. The culture and tradition of the US are, by all means, diverse and unique compared to other nations, which makes me really interested and decide to choose this aspect of America to be the topic.

1.2  Scope

This essay will be focusing on the impact of immigration on American culture. It will give a brief history of immigration to the US then discuss main contributions of particular types of immigrants and how their own cultures have been adopted and become crucial parts of American culture and custom. Additionally, during their process of assimilation into the US, some people reckon that the fact that America is the country of immigrants negatively affects it especially the American culture since they fear that the immigrants will distort or spoil existing cultural values or American identity.

1.3  Organization

This essay will be divided into three main chapters. Chapter 1 will provide us with general background information about the essay regarding the impact of immigrants on American culture. In chapter 2, there will be two parts. The first part shows the history of immigration to the US according to four periods. The second part will specialize in analyzing the impact of immigration on the culture of America. Finally, chapter 3 is my conclusion of the essay.




I.                    History of immigration to the United States

Millions of people from all around the world have decided to immigrate to the United States. That fact makes up one of the central elements in the country’s overall development, particularly in terms of its economic growth. Immigration has made the United States of America.

     Its history falls into four distinct time periods, each of which involved varying rates of migration from distinctly different places in the world. Each reflected, and also shaped, much about the basic nature.

With each immigration wave that the United States of America has experienced, the culture and context of life in America have changed significantly. It is undeniable that such changes have continued into the twenty-first century. The United States of America has a long history of immigration starting with the first European settlements from around 1600 and around this time, the east coast was the place where the British and other Europeans settled primarily. After that, Africans were imported as slaves. The second wave was through the mid-nineteenth century, and mostly Irish and Germans came to the United States. That period was followed by the third wave, which lasted about forty years and brought in millions of Asians and southern and eastern Europeans. Finally, the fourth major wave began. Immigration, however, played a key role not only in making America’s development but also in shaping the basic nature of the society of American society and culture.

1.      The first immigration wave

The first wave is known to have approximately 1.2 million immigrants in total and this period is estimated to last from 1607 to 1830. Better economic opportunities, slavery, political and religious freedom are among various reasons why early immigrants-mostly Europeans came here. Most immigrants who came during the seventeenth century were from England and small numbers originated from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and other countries. After 1700, there was a considerable increase in the number of immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and Germany, while those from England declined. Generally speaking, they tended to be relatively homogeneous, sharing a religion (Protestant Christianity) and race (white). As America was a British colony and the majority of both the population and incoming immigrants were British, there were few cultural conflicts. Furthermore, the first black Africans to come to America during this time also came here as servants.

2.      The second immigration wave

From 1830s to 1880s, there were a total number of nearly 15.3 million immigrants to the United States and the vast majority of these people came to New York City. The second-wave immigrants were primarily Irish and German. There were transportation improvements with the development of clipper ships and railroads, European problems such as famine and war. Moreover, the growing reputation of America as a land of opportunities (“American dream”) allured people to move to this country. Both the lure of gold discovered in California and the prospect of work brought a wave of Chinese immigrants to the West Coast of the US. Meanwhile, most Chinese immigrants entered the United States through the port of San Francisco. It is said that most of them were single men who planned to make their fortunes and return to China. However, a large proportion of them ended up spending the rest of their lives in the United States and having families. After the 1870’s economic depression of the US, along with restrictive legislation, immigration went through another period of decline.

3.      The third immigration wave

By the late nineteenth century, transoceanic transportation had become significantly cheaper, making it easier for poor Europeans to immigrate to the United States. The period between about 1881 and 1920 brought more than 23 million new immigrants from all parts of the world, mostly from Europe so immigration hit its peak. Like other waves of immigrants, this period people came here for democracy, freedom of religion, available land and booming industry such a steel and railroads. The size and greater cultural diversity of the Third Wave would give rise to fear and hatred of foreigners. For instance, the Chinese immigrants of the previous wave, many of the new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe encountered much hostility in their new homeland. Again feeling threatened by job competition as well as concerned about racial, religious, and political differences, native-born Americans directed their new hostility primarily against Jewish immigrants, Roman Catholics, and the Japanese. During the Depression years between 1931 and 1940, about one-half million new immigrants arrived in the United States.

4.      The fourth immigration wave

The fourth immigration wave describes the wave of immigrants from 1965 to now and total immigrants were estimated to be more than 30 million. In addition to these approximately 30 million legal immigrants in the country, the U.S. Census estimated that about 8.7 million immigrants entered the country illegally. The Fourth Wave is the most diverse one ever, with over 80% of immigrants coming from Latin America and Asia, bringing with them a veritable kaleidoscope of cultural traditions. The Fourth Wave brought an astounding new ethnic and religious diversity. Now the US has more Muslims (4%) than Jews (3%) and an increasing number of Buddhists (nearly 1%). Mexican, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern restaurants have sprung up all over. As a result, America is fast becoming a “rainbow society” composed of all the different types of peoples on earth. In fact, Latinos have now overtaken African-Americans as the largest US “minority group,” and may well comprise 1 in 4 Americans by 2050. Asian immigrants, a small percentage of the US population before the Fourth Wave, may comprise nearly 10% of the population by mid-century.

In every era of U.S. history, from colonial times to the early 21st century, women and men from all over the world have opted for the American experience. They arrived as foreigners, who are bearers of languages, cultures, and religions that sometimes were like the alien to America’s essential core. However, over time, as ideas about U.S. culture changed, the immigrants and their descendants simultaneously built ethnic communities and assimilated into American civic life.

II.                 The impact of immigration on American culture.

American culture is a “melting pot of cultures” in which immigrants have brought their cultures and traditions to a vast new country. The term “melting pot” refers to America as a giant soup pot. Each immigrant adds their own flavors. After coming to the US, they connect to other people and people gradually learn about each other’s culture. We can say that American culture is probably the combination of diverse traditions and customs influenced by immigrants. On the one hand, immigrants and their descendants were also important in the development of popular American culture and in creating the positive image. On the other hand, to some extent, it is believed that immigration has a negative effect on American culture.


1.       Immigrants have enriched and greatly contributed to American culture

1.1  Language

As immigrants arrive in the United States, they also bring with them their languages as well as their cultures. Just as immigrants and their cultures have become part of the fabric of this country, so have some words from their languages, so much that Americans may not even realize that they have foreign origins. We will look at this aspect of American English through some of common loanwords brought into the language by immigrant communities.

There are a lot of words that derive from foreigners via their immigration into the United States. For instance, the word “zucchini” is the American English version of courgette and zucchini in British English, was given to America by the Italian-American immigrants who also cultivated these little pumpkins and brought them to America in a wave of immigration in the early 20th century. The Dutch who settled the mid-Atlantic in the 1600s also made contributions to some common American vocabulary. The word cookie originates from the Dutch word “koekje” or more precisely its dialect variant “koekie”, which means little cake, and was brought to America with the Dutch. In addition, the word “klutz” was brought to America in the mid-20th century with Yiddish-speaking immigrants along with many other words such as “and of course”, “bagel”, “spiel”. The Yiddish meaning is lump, block, which makes sense since a block or a lump of a person is anything but graceful, i.e. a klutz. Spanish-speaking immigrant communities are also another group that have brought diversity in American English. The word “bogeda” is mostly used in New York City to mean a convenience store or corner store. Its original meaning in Spanish a wine cellar or basement, but in certain parts of Latin America and Mexico it came to mean a small grocery store.

The French contributed legal, military, technological, and political terminology. Their language also contributed common words, such as the names of meats: veal, mutton, beef, pork, and how food was prepared: boil, broil, fry, roast, and stew; as well as words related to the nobility: prince, duke, marquess, viscount, baron. From Italian, we have a number of words like espresso, cappuccino, linguini, pasta and from Chinese, common words like dim sum, litchee, chow mein are widely used.

In terms of language, immigrants generally have made significant contributions to American language, which helps American English more diverse and enriched.

1.2  Religion

 Religion is by all means one of the most significant and prominent aspects when it comes to the impact of immigrants on American culture. Immigrants, through their integration and assimilation into the United States, simultaneously have brought with them their religions and until now, this has a deep influence on the Americans and American society. Immigration has profoundly changed the contours of religion in America. Hundreds of thousands of people, most of them from what used to be known as the Third World (relatively few from Europe), stream into the country every year, bringing their religious identities with them. Americans are far more likely to profess a religion (Baker 2004; Hamilton and Form 2003). Historical studies of immigration recognized this fact and explicitly incorporated religion into accounts of immigrant adaptation and assimilation.

There is a fact that the great majority of the newcomers are Christian. Some are adherents of other great world religions (Including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism). A larger number profess no religion. For example, Hispanic or Latino Americans are people in the United States who are descendants of countries of Latin America and Spain. This is also considered to be among the biggest immigrant groups of America. One survey done by the Hispanic Churches in American Public Life found that 70% of all Hispanic and Latino Americans are Catholic, 20% are Protestant, 3% are “alternative Christians” (such as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses), 1% identify themselves with a non-Christian religion. Hispanic or Latino Catholics are developing youth and social programs to retain members, as well as the spread of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Moreover, another factor leading to the diversification of American Christianity is widespread conversion among some immigrant groups, notably the Chinese.

Another crucial group of immigrants is the Asian. Asian American religions have dramatically increased their presence in the United States. Partly, this is a function of the increasing population of Asian Americans since 1965. Over three-quarters of Asian Americans profess a religious faith. It is estimated that about half of them actually have religious beliefs and ethics and practice them as an intrinsic part of the Asian American culture. The most Buddhist stream comes from Vietnam, where 48% follow teachings of the Bodhisattva. Nonetheless, reflecting its historical colonization by France, nearly a quarter of all Vietnamese immigrants (23%) said they were Catholic. Given that just 9% of all Vietnamese are Buddhist and 7% Catholic whereas 81% profess no religion at all, religious people–whether Christian or Buddhist—are very much over-represented among Vietnamese immigrants to the United States. Furthermore, the most Hindu of all immigrant streams is India, with 63% professing this religion, compared with 6% Moslems and around 12% Christians. Despite the large Hindu majority, however, Christians are substantially over-represented among Indian immigrants as only 2% of all Indians profess this belief.

1.3  Arts

Immigrants and the second generation have played a remarkable role in the American creative arts, including writing, producing, and acting in American movies, films and plays for most of the first half of the 20th century. Immigrants, and especially the children and grandchildren of immigrants, have played an essential role in the development of the American performing arts. They have also made fundamental contributions in many other realms of arts and cultures.

One noticeable figure of immigrants’ descendants is Al Jolson, one of the most successful and popular entertainers in the American arts history, was born in Russia and immigrated to the US as a child.  He had become a symbol and Jolson climbed to the peak of the American entertainment industry by redefining the role and image of a public performer. He brought the expressionism and style of jazz to popular audiences, his singing connected with stage and film audiences through his dramatic emotional and physical performance. It is believed that the Jolson style did not represent assimilation, but rather the creation of a distinctive “American” genre of musical performance.

In every area of our cultural life, we find recent immigrants or their children who have made distinctive contributions. For example, the music in America in I956 would have been different and poorer if it had not been for Leopold Stokowski, Arthur Rubinstein, Josef Hoffman, Artur Rodzinski, and Leopold Damrosch, all of whom came to the US from Poland.

Another artist is Arshile Gorky, who is an ethnically Armenian painter, had a seminal influence on Abstract Expressionism. He spent most his life as a national of the United States.

Many of the famous and highly-regarded composers, writers and lyricists are either immigrants or children of immigrants. Most importantly, they have influence American arts especially music in a better way as their music has defined the quintessential American musical culture of the twentieth century.

1.4  Family’s life and values

Immigrants brought new cultures and customs to the United States. As mentioned above, America is referred as a melting pot due to the fact that there were so many different cultures that came to this country. As a result, the Americans have adopted some of these cultural ideas and gradually these traditions have been indispensable parts of their daily lives. One famous celebration is St. Patrick Day from Irish heritage. The idea of having Christmas tree on Christmas Day came from the Germans.

Immigrants tend to be very group-oriented, and an emphasis is placed on the well-being of the family above the individual. The extended family plays an important part of many immigrants ‘families, and frequent social, family gatherings are common. For example, traditional rites of passages, particularly Roman Catholic sacraments: such as birthdays, First Holy Communions, graduations, and weddings are all popular moments of family gatherings and celebrations in Hispanic families. The Asian Americans also celebrate their own traditional events in a year like New Year Eve, Mid-Autumn Festival (the Chinese, Vietnamese).

In addition, intermarriage has been widely-known and popular among immigrants. In fact, this is a principal factor that contributed to spread as well as propagate the immigrant’s culture in America.

1.5  Cuisine

From the country’s founding, American food has been greatly influenced by the people who have come to live in America. Whether it’s Italian spices, Asian cooking methods or new fruits and vegetables grown or imported here, immigrants continue to change what Americans eat and how they cook. More than any other aspect of culture, contemporary American cuisine combines traditions from almost every population on the planet. Historian Donna Gabaccia argued that traditional American cuisine is a Creole mix that reflects influences from the three major founding populations of indigenous American Indians, Europeans, and Africans. Over the last century, immigrants from Germany, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, China, Japan, and India have all left distinctive culinary marks on what Americans eat in restaurants and in their homes. Ethnic foods have become American foods, and even American fast foods. In the United States, sushi, falafel, fajitas and pho are as American as well, apple pie, buttered popcorn and potato chips. It is nearly a rite of passage for migrants to add cherished food dishes.

2.       The downside of immigrants to American culture

According to Huntington, a well-known American political scientist, culture refers to “a people’s language, religious beliefs, social and political values, assumptions as to what is right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, and to the objective institutions and behavioral patterns that reflect these subjective elements”. Some argue that a large number of immigrants would probably threaten American identity and American culture.

It is thought that incorrect and mass of immigration practices are deepening the racial and cultural divisions within America today. The Atlantic said that a number of Americans feels that American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence. Roosevelt’s fears are in danger of being realized. America has become a complex patchwork quilt of races, ethnicities, religions, languages and loyalties. The more each of these groups puts its own identity and loyalty above the national identity, the weaker becomes the moral and cultural fabric of society. In other words, a possible result is that American culture will be “diluted” if the US is dominated by immigrants in the future.


In conclusion, immigration has become a crucial part of the United States of America and immigrants’ great contributions to America or specifically, American culture is something that cannot be denied.  From history to the present, immigrants have exerted their effects on every aspect of America. However, American culture is one of the most prominent facets. During their integration and assimilation, America culture is not only enriched but it is also negatively affected but all these factors have made America the country of diversity and prosperity. Lastly, I have to point out that American society, even with all of its failings and drawbacks, might offer and set a typical model of how immigrants and their descendants have assimilated, prospered and also contributed to its culture and society. Even the idea of what it means to be an American has evolved as each immigrant wave through history has broadened the outlook of all Americans.