Does America have its own unique culture?
- According to US Census Bureau data from 2016, although English is spoken at home by about 80% of Americans, more than 350 other languages are spoken throughout the country.
- The phrase Americana relates to the “history, geography, folklore, and cultural heritage of the United States” and is characterized by nostalgia for “an idealized life in small towns and cities in the United States around the turn of the century.” The Atlantic also describes the term as “slang for the comforting, middle-class ephemera at your average antique store—things like needle-pointed pillows, Civil War daguerreotypes, and engraved silverware sets.”
- Every 670 seconds, a new migrant moves to the US.
- America is a leader in worldwide mass media production, as the US Department of Commerce reports that “one-third of the worldwide media and entertainment industry” is produced in the US.
America does not have its own unique culture for several reasons. First, its culture has been shaped by immigrants who have brought their cultures with them into the American 'melting pot.' And second, America is still a relatively new country, offering a culture that is actually a slight variation of many different cultures rather than being truly unique in the world. America has the largest population of immigrants and, as of a 2016 Pew Research poll, about one-in-five, or 19% of the US population, are international immigrants. These immigrants brought their own cultures with them from their native countries, as they have since America's inception, as cultures that do not suddenly become 'American' just because they are brought to a new land.
America is also still a relatively new country compared to other countries in the world and has not had enough time yet to develop its own culture that is truly unique from other countries. While it may seem that there are many aspects of culture in America that are unique, like baseball, apple pie, and even American-styled democracy, all of these aspects are merely slight variations on concepts that have already existed in other cultures around the world rather than really being unique to America. For example, baseball and apple pie came from England, democracy from Greece. It is not American culture itself that is unique; rather, it is the ability to embrace so many different cultures from around the world and appreciate them that makes America unique. This sets our nation apart to continue to develop and grow from the best that all of these cultures have to offer, even while we can't say any one aspect is purely 'American.'
American culture is a unique graft formed from the native cultures of the peoples who migrated here and is inextricably bound to immigration. Once given a new home, and with opportunity and growth, several cultural aspects, easily identifiable as uniquely American hybrids, have bloomed.
Jazz music, for example, the essence of which is stylistic incorporation and improvisation, much like American culture itself, traces its roots to a combination of European and African music that grew in America, particularly in the social and worldly port city of New Orleans.
Baseball, a wholly American cousin to the emigrated English games of cricket and rounders, reflected America in 19th-century societal forces of unification, in 20th-century struggles with integration, and now reflects the diversification of 21st-century American society.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Necessity is sometimes the mother of immigration as well. Were immigrants a disproportionate subset of inventors? Yes. Are they still? Yes. Technological advances by immigrants contribute to a growing economy, even today, and may have made a difference in World War II. Significant contributions came from Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, and Elon Musk.
As invention and innovation are integral components of the American economy, there is perhaps no more American industry than Hollywood. Initially built on the patents of Thomas Edison, the movie industry is a uniquely American creation that benefited from the immigrant talents of Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Audrey Hepburn, and Natalie Portman, as well as executives Louis Mayer, Sam Goldwyn, and the Warner Brothers. Countless originalities not listed here sprang from our young nation and continue to shape the world as American culture continues to spread globally.