Assimilation vs. Homogenization

Commenting on a Washington Times column which urges us not to worry about immigration since,

“There was also this great fear back then that these new groups would not become American,” he said. “But now, you can buy a bagel in any town in the U.S. It is no longer thought of as an ethnic food, nor is pizza. But it was.”

Matthew Yglesias retorts,

True, but 99% of the bagels and 85% of the pizza you find around this country suck. If the future of current American ethnic food is to become more widespread and yet inedible, I’m going to be upset.

More evidence that in the future all restaurants will be Taco Bell.

It’s a matter of taste, I suppose. I’ve had pizza in Europe made by actual Italians and, frankly, I prefer Papa John’s. Or frozen, for that matter. And I suspect I far prefer the Americanized (read: lots of meat) version of Chinese food better than I would the variety eaten by the average person in Beijing. Even in relatively remote areas, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, and other ethnic restaurants–usually run by natives of those countries–are readily available.

Of course, I’m not sure how the proliferation of ethnic food is evidence that these groups are assimilating into our culture. Indeed, it would seem that the reverse would be true.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark Hasty says:

    “I’m in favor of liberalized immigration for the effect it would have on restaurants. I’d let in just about enybody except the British.”–Calvin Trillin

  2. Mark Hasty says:

    ‘anybody’, not ‘enybody’–sheesh.

  3. It sounds like Matthew is wearing his blue state colors proudly.

  4. Brian Drozd says:

    Of course, I’m not sure how the proliferation of ethnic food is evidence that these groups are assimilating into our culture. Indeed, it would seem that the reverse would be true.

    How else would you measure American culture? We have none save what we’ve adopted from other countries. It’s been hobbled together from dozens of other cultures, with only very few original bits and pieces. All of American ‘culture’ is the result of other cultures absorbing one another.

  5. Ideally, you’d have the Darwinian selection of desirable features of other cultures. Those that don’t cut the societal mustard don’t get assimilated into the greater American culture.

    Insisting that we protect and encourage pockets of other cultures is merely the liberal version of “separate, but equal,” and is just as distasteful as the kind we got rid of last century.

  6. I always find it funny when people in the U.S. want to go out for “Mexican Food”. In Texas, I usually correct them and say “TexMex”. And the “Mexican food” found in California and Arizona is different from the TexMex in Texas, so I usually refer to it as “Southwestern” (and I love both).

    Try going into the interior of Mexico (i.e. away from the border and tourist areas) and ordering a “taco” and you will get a blank stare. In both TexMex and Southwestern cuisine immigrants took something from their homeland and made it even better here. And isn’t that what coming to to America is all about?

  7. James Joyner says:

    The food from poverty-stricken lands often isn’t all that good, not surprisingly. They get creative as hell with what they do have, though. “How can I feed my family with two pounds of rice, a carrot, and the wing of a chicken?” They transport that to a place where food is cheap and abundant….

  8. melvin toast says:

    Apparently Americans prefer taco bell over tacos tripas or tacos cabeza.

  9. The thing is to find a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in SoCal–something about 95% authentic–and eat there. Homemade tortillas, bean and cheese burritos, beef tacos, tamales.

    Oh, yes. The stuff my Mexican baby-sitter used to feed me when I was a little girl: pure ambrosia.

    If I go to a chain Mexican place the food usually (barely) passes muster. But it is overpriced, and what I’m really there for is the drinks.

    Know what you want.