Proceedings of the Seventh National Conference on the Teaching of English (Y-F. Lin, ed.), pp. 137-157).  Taipei: The Crane Publishing Company, Ltd., 1990. 

        Ethnic Diversity: An Important Component of American Culture

Johanna E. Katchen




When we talk about Chinese society, we invariably mention 5000 years of continuous history, of the Chinese as more or less one people, the Han, adding some other groups such as the Mongols on the periphery.  Differences tend to be regional--Szechuan food is different from Cantonese food, Shanghai dialect has special features, festival celebrations differ in detail from place to place.  Nevertheless, most Chinese express the concept of "We Chinese" quite readily, of one people with a common past an a common future.  There is a great tie to the home, even the regional home, so that people born on Taiwan say they are from Hebei or Jiangsu or even Beiping or Soochow.


American culture, too, may seem rather uniform on the surface.  EFL texts teach American customs, American manners, and American attitudes.  Although there are certain norms of behavior that most Americans follow most of the time, other norms may be exhibited in areas where the participants share the same ethnic background, such as in holiday celebrations, the marking of important events (births, deaths, marriages), cuisine, and moral values and attitudes (family ties, work habits) that often affect even the second and third generations.


The diverse ethnic composition of the United States is a new concept to Chinese students, whose culture is older and more uniform.  Since students have little opportunity to explore this diversity outside the classroom and materials are few, teachers need to develop their own activities if they want to teach this aspect of American culture.  


In order to help broaden teachers' knowledge in this area this paper first presents a general background of American immigration and ethnic patterns.  Second, it discusses some of the general effects of this immigration upon American society.  Finally, in an annotated bibliography, it surveys some of the EFL materials on American culture and ethnicity currently available in Taiwan.


American Immigration and Ethnic Patterns


It is sometimes said that the only true American is the American Indian, or Native American, as he is sometimes called.  He was certainly the first American.  This is a sad episode in United States' history, as the Indian was gradually pushed off his land, often forcibly, and limited to specific areas or reservations.  There were perhaps as many as three hundred different groups of Indians with their own specific cultures and languages in what is now the United States and Canada.  Within present US borders some of the larger groups were the Iroquois of the Northeast, the Cherokee of the Southeast, the Sioux of the Midwest, and Navajo and Apache of the Southwest, in addition to many other tribes.  Many tribes were killed off or died off.  As of 1986, there were approximately 1.4 million Native Americans living in the United States (USIS, 1986).  Although they speak English, Indians are proud of their heritage and make an effort to learn and speak their native languages.  Between 50 and 100 different Indian languages are still spoken, although small groups especially face the problem of their language dying out if too many young people reject their traditions in an attempt to attain success in the cities.


When we think of American history, we are apt to think of the English.  Indeed, the English were among the first European settlers, establishing colonies at Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.  By 1790, 69% of the population was of English ancestry (Doty & Ross, 1973).  The English were the largest group and were the most influential; hence Americans adopted and then adapted many English customs. 


Because of the predominance of immigrants from England, Americans speak English today, although Standard American English differs somewhat from the British standard (Received Pronunciation or what we think of as BBC English), and their regional dialects differ considerably.  Indeed, the difference in America's regional dialects can be traced in part to America's immigration and migration patterns (cf. McCrum, Cran & MacNeil, 1986), a topic that will not be addressed here.


Among the early settlers of America were also the Dutch.  They originally colonized New York and the Hudson Valley, but the Dutch government surrendered their territory quite early to the English.  Nevertheless, the Dutch continued to arrive, with the poor economic conditions of their homeland in the nineteenth century causing even more to emigrate and settle in the United States, this time primarily in the Midwest.  Many of the tales of the early American writer Washington Irving tell of life in the former Dutch settlements of the Hudson Valley of New York; the most well-known of these tales are Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.


One of the first German communities in American was Germantown, near Philadelphia, established in 1683.  Since then, Germans have settled in all parts of the United States.  About one-fourth of all Americans claim to be of German or part-German descent.  German contributions have been in all areas, from education (kindergarten, physical education) to music (and music groups) to cuisine (German sausages, sauerkraut, rye and other dark breads, various stews and casseroles).


An interesting subgroup of German immigrants became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, although they are actually Germans.  The term is usually applied to the Amish and Mennonites living in Southern Pennsylvania and some neighboring states.  Speaking a dialect of German mixed with some English words, they keep the lifestyle and religious customs they brought with them about two hundred years before.  Their lives revolve around farming, and the Amish in particular do not use tractors or cars, nor do they have electricity or telephones.  Mennonites are less strict; they keep religious customs and their languages but accept modern conveniences and have contact with non-Mennonites.  And just about everybody loves Pennsylvania Dutch shoo-fly pie.


The French went to North America early; explorers were particularly active along the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.  Later, a large portion of the current United States was bought from the French in the Louisiana Purchase.  We tend to think of New Orleans as the center of French culture from the past in the United States.  From Lafayette's help in the Revolutionary War until the present, French influence has been steady, especially in the arts and in cuisine.  From hors d'oeurves to omelettes to various sauces and mayonnaise to French wine, French food has brought elegance to the American table.


Among the earlier settlers were also the Scots-Irish, who had earlier moved from Scotland to Northern Ireland.  The emigrated for religious and economic reasons.  In America, they tended to avoid the more heavily populated coastal areas and go inland to the open, unsettled territory of Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In fact, linguists have traced some of the features of the English in remote Appalachian areas back to the Scots-Irish of Northern Ireland.  A good number of Americans have at least one Scots-Irish ancestor.


The Spanish were the first Europeans to settle America's Southwest; the United States acquired this territory about 150 years ago.  In addition, with the proximity of Mexico and its mixture of Spanish and Indian culture, the Mexican-American (or Chicano) community has been growing even more in recent years.  Many crossing over from Mexico, often illegally, and unskilled and take low-paying jobs, although their poverty may be less acute than it was in Mexico.  Movement from Puerto Rico, which is American territory, while not technically immigration, also serves to increase the number of people of Spanish/Indian background on the United States mainland.  As with other groups of new immigrants, living with one's own kind in a ghetto can be comforting and reassuring, but it can also serve to keep one out of the mainstream of American society and prevent one from climbing the socioeconomic ladder.  Conditions are improving  but the process is slow.  Henry Cisneros, the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, is of Spanish descent,  as is baseball star Fernando Valenzuela.  Mexican food is extremely popular all over the United States; there are even fast-food chains, such as Taco Bell, which serve tacos, enchiladas, burritos, guacamole.  Mexican food has become very much a part of American cuisine.


Another sad episode in American history was the importation and use of slaves, even from before 1776.  Slave traders actually kidnapped the peoples of West Africa, separating them from their families, herding them in chains to various parts of the western hemisphere and forcing them to work.  Slaves were particularly useful on the labor-intensive cotton plantations of the American South.  Even after 1865,when slaves gained their freedom, the lives of many did not improve much.  As late as the 1950s and 1960s, Black Americans (sometimes also called Afro-Americans) had to fight for desegregated schools and other public facilities and needed a law, the Civil Rights Act, to enforce equal treatment.  Although there has been marked improvement, there is still discrimination against Blacks and there are still many poor Blacks.  Current prominent Black Americans include the Rev. Jesse Jackson, politician; David Dinkins, Mayor of New York City; and many famous entertainers and sports stars.  There is no particular Black cuisine widely popular in the US, but many Southern dishes, such as Southern fired chicken, grits, and chitlins, are part of Black cooking.


Beginning in 1845, the Irish potato crop suffered from blight.  The destruction of the potato, the most important crop, resulted in widespread famine.  To escape, many Irish emigrated to America.  Although some Irish had gone to American before, between 1840 and 1855 a million and a half Irish moved to the United States (Doty & Ross, 1973).  Most were extremely poor and took the lowest paying jobs.  These "real" Irish were Catholics, unlike the Protestant Scots Irish who had come earlier.  Discrimination against them was high, but they banded together and gained some power in local leadership.  Many second generation Irish-Americans were able to move up the social ladder.  Even during the 190 presidential election, fears were voiced against having a Catholic president; nevertheless, John F. Kennedy became America's first Irish Catholic American president.


Although the majority of Americans are descendants of immigrants who crossed the Atlantic, we cannot forget those who crossed the Pacific.  The majority of the early Chinese settlers went to California to do the strenuous work of railroad building.  Discrimination was great and in 1882 the US stopped the immigration of Chinese laborers.  Since World War II, the number of Chinese immigrants has grown as laws have changed, and the most recent immigrants tend to be highly educated.  Chinese are known to be hard workers and, despite pockets of racial discrimination against Asians, are generally welcome as great contributors to American society.  Chinese restaurants are popular but are most authentic in the Chinatowns of large cities.  American scientific research has certainly benefited from the many contributions of Chinese scientists.  Recently a Chinese-American, Chang-lin Tien, was named head of the University of California's Berkeley Campus.


The Japanese, too, have been discriminated against, especially during World War II, when Japanese were put into internment camps.  Even today, although most have been extremely successful, there is a new anti-Japanese feeling among some people that stems from Japan's growing economic power.  Some Americans were outraged when it was announced that a Japanese firm had bought Rockefeller Center.  They say "America for the Americans" but are unconcerned if other American enterprises are bought by British or other European concerns.  Most Americans know nothing about Japanese food, but quite recently sushi bars have become trendy in large cities.  S. I. Hayakawa, politician and language commentator, has been well-known for quite some time.


In the late nineteenth century, as the American economy was expanding rapidly, the need for unskilled workers to man the factories, mills, and mines was great.  Between 1880 and 1920, the vast immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe brought three million Italians, a million and a half Jews, two million Russians, and many other groups from that part of the world to the United States.  In 1924 the flow of immigrants came to an end  with a federal law severely restricting immigration from these areas.


Italian Americans often lived in a "Little Italy" at first and, like other immigrant groups, formed societies to protect themselves.  Unfortunately, a few of these protection groups became associated with criminal groups such as the Mafia.  Popular TV programs associate Italian Americans with gangsters; but most Italian-Americans are as law-abiding as anyone else.  Their most well-known contribution to American culture is in food: pizza and pasta, linguini and lasagne, spaghetti and salami--all are Italian and loved by Americans.  A current prominent Italian-American is Mario Cuomo, the Governor of the State of New York.


Jews have been arriving in the United States since colonial times, but the biggest wave came after 1880, when most arrived from Eastern European countries (Poland, Russian, etc.).  The history of Jewish diaspora and immigration is a sad one; in most of Europe they faced severe discrimination and segregation.  They are known to be hard workers and lovers of education; therefore, many have made good in America.  Many distinguished artists, scientists, and statesmen are Jewish-Americans, for example, Leonard Bernstein (conductor), Albert Einstein (scientist), and Ed Koch (for mayor of New York City).


The Slavic peoples include, among others, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Slovaks, Czechs, Serbs, and Bulgarians.  Others may  be listed on immigration papers as Austrian, because a vast part of this territory was under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I.  The majority emigrated for economic reasons, and their lives in America followed similar patterns.  While the immigrants were poor and worked had, their children were often able to do better and even become middle class.  Still today there are pockets of Slav communities, both in big cities and in small towns of the Northeast to Midwest.  It is said that Chicago's Polish population is second only to Warsaw.  A specifically American development has been the popularity of polka bands, whose vocalists use both Polish (or other Slavic languages) and English in their songs.  In cuisine, stuffed cabbage, piroshki (dumplings similar to Chinese dumplings with different fillings), potato pancakes, Polish sausages, and Russian black breads and beet or cabbage soups are popular.  Presidential advisor Zbigniew Brzenski is from Poland; pop artist Andy Warhol's parents were born in a village in Eastern Slovakia.


Other groups from Southern and Eastern Europe also arrived in the United States during the peak immigration period of 1880-1920, among them Hungarians, Greeks, Romanians, Lithuanians, and others, in addition to immigrants from the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Armenia, etc.).  About 30,000 Hungarians also arrived after the Hungarian uprising of 1956.  Prominent Hungarian-Americans include Eugene Ormandy (conductor) and Joseph Pulitzer (publisher and founder of the Pulitzer prize).  In addition to goulash (a kind of stew) and rich desserts, foods flavored with paprika or dill or using sour cream give American foods a Hungarian taste.


Greeks are still moving to the US.  Besides working in factories, many Greeks have even opened up restaurants, some specializing in Greek moussaka, seafood, salads, and sweets.  The 1988 Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, is of Greek parentage.  Immigrants from many areas of the Middle East are represented in the US, among them entertainer Danny Thomas (Lebanese) and California Governor George Dukmejian (Armenian).


Of course, America has also had immigrants from India and Pakistan, the Philippines, North Africa, and all other parts of the globe.  More recent groups include refugees from wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. And they keep on arriving--from everywhere.


Some Effects of America's Immigration Patterns


The brief summary presented above is not meant to be exhaustive nor to exclude any group deliberately.  What is important to see is that the English strain was blended early with the Dutch and the French, with additions of Irish, Scots-Irish, and German.  If we exclude the Native Americans, Blacks, and Spanish/Mexicans, who were on the periphery in earlier concepts of "American," then these earlier immigrants were almost completely Northern European and, because they shared many similarities in race, cultural heritage, religion (most were Protestants of some sort), and even language (the Irish and Scots-Irish spoke English; German and Dutch are cousins of English), they blended more easily.  Because of these similarities, descendants of the above groups are often referred to as WASPs--White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.


Irish immigrants suffered some discrimination because they were poor and Catholic; other Europeans suffered even more because they spoke foreign languages, had different cultural traditions, and different religions (Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, or Islamic).  Asians were more different and had even more difficulty being accepted.  The son of Ukrainian immigrants could change his surname from Andreosky to Andrews and might be accepted as American; the Asian, Black, or even Middle-Easterner had more than a surname to distinguish his origins.


Relationships Among Ethnic Groups


The immigration waves have had somewhat the effect of layers on American society.  This layering is reflected in part by the settlements in major American cities.  A generation or more after a city was founded, some successful members of the middle class moved out to the suburbs, leaving he center-city houses to the newly-arrived poor Irish, whose children moved up the social ladder and out to the suburbs, leaving the older center-city houses to the newly-arrived Southern and Eastern Europeans, whose children moved up the social ladder and out to the suburbs, leaving the shabby inner-city houses to  poor Blacks from the South or newly-arrived Puerto Ricans.  From a neighborhood to a ghetto in a few generations.


The various ethnic groups sometimes clash. One has only to ask the Chinese in Los Angeles if they ever experience misunderstandings with whites, Blacks, or Chicanos.  The famous musical West Side Story is set among warring gangs of white and Puerto Rican youths in New York City.  Whites and Blacks have often clashed.  A recent conflict between Blacks and Koreans in New York City resulted in the killing of a Vietnamese man mistaken for  Korean.  Interethnic mistrust is not new: in the 1920s Italian and Slavic immigrants often forbade their children to play with one another, yet some of those children later married across those ethnic lines, not always with parental approval.  There are also some Americans who resent new immigrants; they forget that they, too, are the children or grandchildren of former immigrants, immigrants who seemed just as poor and dirty and foreign when they arrived.  (For a fuller discussion of recent discrimination against non-white Americans, see Chua-Eoan, 1990; also Henry, 1990.)


Attitude Toward Home


The patterns of American immigration make for some very profound differences between American and Chinese culture.  One difference is the attitude toward "home."  Americans move rather often; over 40 million Americans move every year and the average American moves fourteen times in his lifetime (Tiersky & Tiersky, 1975).  It has been said humorously that the American tendency to change residence to frequently is genetic; all Americans (even Native Americans in the distant past) are descended from immigrants.  In a more serious vein, immigration is likely to have shaped the American character, this and the frontier ideal, the concept of vast, available open space.  As the original immigrants moved to better their fortunes, so today's Americans often move (to the city, to California, etc.) to find a better job and be more successful than their parents.


Take, for example, a child whose parents move from Indiana to Arizona when he is ten.  Home then becomes Arizona, the place where the immediate family resides.  All ties to Indiana ma be broken, unless there are family members there, depending upon the strength of ties to the extended family (Southern and Eastern Europeans, and certainly Chinese, tend to have stronger ties to the extended family than many of Northern European or mixed heritage, for example).  This move is made easier because there are no strong differences between various areas of the United Stets.  The English may be a different dialect, but communication problems are rare.  People are pretty much the same, although Easterners are said to be a bit more conservative that Californians.  In short, regional differences are few and relatively minor.


Furthermore, no one ethnic group has settled in one particular place.  True, there tend to be more Spanish-Americans closer to the Mexican border and more Chinese in California, for example, and although we can cite historical reasons why certain groups tended to settle in certain regions (mainly proximity in these cases), Chinese are not limited to California, and Chinese can be found in all fifty states.


National Identity Versus Ethnic Identity


Another difference between American and Chinese culture is in national identity.  Of course, Americans identify themselves as Americans and are proud of it, but one seldom, if ever, hears Americans say "We Americans do X this way" in the way we hear "We Chinese" or "We Japanese."  This is most likely because Americans are quite conscious of the fact that they are not one people, and certainly not one race.  Becoming American was, except for Black Americans, a matter of choice on the part of immigrants, and no race has been excluded, although there have been restrictions at various times.  Americans have chosen to share certain common American characteristics, such as attitudes toward politics, government, human rights, social organization, and so on, although even here the right to hold differing opinions is built into the fabric of that hazy concept "the American way."  In other ways, Americans may be as different from one another as citizens of different countries.  These differences are more likely seen in such activities closer to home as religious rituals, holiday celebrations, rites of passage, and even interpersonal relationships, which were brought from the native land and modified in America or even blended with general American ways.


Many hyphenated Americans may also identify partially with "the old country" or the land they or their ancestors came from.  Generally, the more recent the ancestors' immigration, the closer the ties.  Grandchildren of the immigrants show less interest  in "the homeland" than their parents, especially if there has been intermarriage with other ethnic groups, but not always.  In communities of many of the same ethnic groups (e.g., Chinatown, Little Italy), there is more opportunity for children to learn the ways of heir forbearers.  A continuing flow of new immigrants from the homeland and he opportunity to travel back also keeps the old county ways alive.  For example, Russians who moved to America during the great immigrations between 1880 and 1924 had little contact with their homeland after the Russian Revolution of 1917; indeed, some had even fled the new Soviet government.  Yet some Russian-Americans have made an effort to keep their culture; many Russian clubs founded at that time in the American Northeast are still going strong and promoting Russian culture.


While some immigrants remained totally within their ethnic group, others, particularly the children of immigrants, may have separated themselves completely or almost completely from anything from "the old country" in their attempt to become or be accepted as Americans.  This is the original "melting pot" concept of American culture: one casts off the old ways and takes on the American ways, thus blending in completely in American society. More recently, the concept of "tossed salad" has gained currency.  Here, as with a salad, each ingredient retains its own identity (carrot, cucumber, tomato or Indian, Filipino, Korean) while adding some of the characteristics or the dressing of the tossed salad (or chef's salad or Waldorf salad) as a whole, that is, the common American culture.


In the early 1970s, Alex Haley's book Roots and the subsequent television mini-series were extremely popular.  It is the fictional story of a Black American family through many generations, beginning with their life in Africa before the slave traders came.  Soon everyone, not only Black Americans, began to take more interest in their own ethnic roots.  It became more fashionable to take pride in one's background.  Children wanted to know more about where their grandparents came from and what their lives were like.  Ethnic festivals got a boost.  Some people began wearing buttons with "Polish Pride" or "Kiss me, I'm Irish," boasting of their ethnic background.


Religious Organizations as Upholders of Ethnic Identity


One way, at least for Europeans and Middle Eastern immigrants, to retain their roots was through religion, their church.  One of the first things an immigrant group would do was to build  church, import a priest from the homeland, and eventually set up their own complete religious schools and organizations in the United States.  Often they established protection societies or lodges.  Formally also social organizations, these lodges nowadays are mainly concerned with selling insurance, although they may also donate to their own charities, give scholarships to young people of their own ethnic group, and promote their own culture.  Indeed, the church organization is the most important place today where one might find people of the same ethnic group gathered together and where one may still hear the language of their homeland.


Church organizations may also directly or indirectly promote cultural activities.  For example, a popular weekend recreation activity, particularly during the summer months, is the ethnic festival.  If a church would like to raise money for a particular project, it might designate one Sunday in summer for a picnic.  The church directors rent a local park with kitchen facilities and the ladies of the church make traditional ethnic food.  For the public, the admission fee gets one tickets to buy food at the food stands; in addition to the homemade ethnic dishes, there are usually also hot dogs and hamburgers.  There is probably also a bar.  The program will include ethnic singers or dancers, or at the very least a local band that plays some ethnic music for the public to dance to between eating and gossiping with neighbors and acquaintances.  Visitors are welcome.  Such activities are a great way to learn about other groups and to pass an afternoon or evening.


Ethnic Festivals


Churches or other groups may also have festivals at specific times of the year.  Italians may celebrate the feast of St. Theresa in October, Slavs St. Nicholas in December, Greeks Greek Independence Day in March, and Irish St. Patrick's Day on March 17.  Plenty of non-Irish-Americans wear green and become Irish that day; school cafeterias even serve green mashed potatoes, green jello, and green cake, local bars color their bars green, and local radio stations may play Irish songs.


City organizations may also sponsor ethnic festivals in which all groups are welcome to participate, usually by setting up food stands, exhibiting cultural artifacts, or demonstrating crafts (e.g., how to paint Ukrainian Easter eggs), and presenting ethnic musical programs.  These, too, are fun for all and a good way to meet people and learn about one's neighbors.  These festivals show that Americans not only enjoy showing off their heritage, but they also enjoy learning about their neighbors' heritages.




American holidays also show both unity and diversity.  Patriotic holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day are celebrated rather uniformly among all Americans, usually by attending a parade or patriotic celebration, going on a picnic, or having an outdoor barbecue.  Memorial Day is also a day to visit graves; on Independence Day one might be able to watch a fireworks display (this is the only holiday when Americans enjoy fireworks).  All celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day.  Thanksgiving Day holds a unique place.  American in origin, yet it is not particularly patriotic; nevertheless, all Americans have their turkey and pumpkin pie and each can be thankful in his own way.


Although Christmas is a Christian holiday, non-Christians can enjoy the decorations, gifts, and parties--those are general American.  Religious celebrations may have ethnic overtones; for example, Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians also sing their own Christmas carols, which also may be heard on radio and TV, and they prepare a special   Christmas Eve meal.  In some communities one may still see groups of young men dressed as shepherds and kings going from house to house  presenting in song and verse a short nativity tableau following the "old country" formula, either in the original language for older people or in English for younger people.


German-Americans traditionally eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day.  If one happens to be around German Americans during the few days before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of the pre-Easter preparation called Lent), one might experience Faschnacht Day, when a particular kind of doughnut is made.  One could experience a Chinese New Year celebration in late January or early February.  March 1 means Welsh St. David's Day celebrations; March 17 means St. Patrick's Day.


Easter is special for Slavic, Greek, and Middle Eastern American Christians.  They may be seen in street processions, chanting in the languages of their homelands.  Slavs prepare a basket or prescribed foods to take to the church to be blessed; afterwards, they return home to have a feast.  After midnight church services, Greeks celebrate with a meal of roast lamb while children compete with each other as to whose red (hard-cooked) egg is the last to be cracked. 


With just the mention of a few months of the year, i can be seen how many ethnic differences Americans may experience.  These differ, of course, from region to region, depending upon where one's neighbors come from.  These holidays tend to be family celebrations and may not be easily observed by the foreign visitor unless he makes an effort to seek them out.


Rites of Passage


Another area in which ethnic differences may be seen is in the important rites of passage in life, primarily rituals associated with birth, marriage, and death.  These rituals are usually strongly influenced by religion.  After the birth of a child, a christening may be held in a Christian family, a bris in a Jewish family.  The bar mitzvah/bas mitzvah is the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, held when the child is about 13; Catholic children experience the confirmation ceremony when they are about that age.  Both the religious ceremonies and the social gatherings after these ceremonies may show ethnic influences, from the food served to the role of the guests.


Weddings are usually happy public events where many guests are invited and in which a non-family or non-ethnic group member is most likely to be invited to participate.  Apart from the differences in religious ritual, differences are also seen in the party afterwards, which may be a blend of some of the old customs with American ways.  For example, at a Polish-American wedding, brides wear white like all other American girls and have a similar-style wedding cake.  But the more guests invited to the catered meal, the better, if one can afford it.  After the meal, a band plays for about four hours (with a good portion of Polish and Polish-American songs); the guests dance, socialize, and drink.  Toward the end of the third hour, it's time for the bridal dance.  The bride dons traditional headdress and the guests line up.  She must dance for a few seconds with each guest, while the guest congratulates the bride and the bride thanks the guest for coming.  But before the guest can dance with the bride, s/he must put some money in the bride's silk purse, held by her attendant.  After dancing, each female guest receives a piece of wedding cake wrapped in paper to take home; each male guest may drink a shot of whiskey.  The last person to dance with the bride is her father, from who she is "kidnapped" by the groom and the ushers.  The guests may still stay for about an hour more as the band continues to play, but when the bride leaves, this is the signal to wind up the socializing and drinking and start thinking of going home.  This kind of wedding celebration is rather different from the American wedding celebrations usually seen on TV or in movies (but see the 1977 film The Deer Hunter for a scene from a Russian-American wedding celebration).


Funerals are solemn, more private affairs, but friends may also pay their respects, perhaps to an open casket in the deceased's hoe or in a funeral home or, in other cases, a visit to the family.  The religious ritual of the ethnic group may dictate certain details of behavior, such as the order of funeral procession, cemetery etiquette, and so on.


Family and Interpersonal Relationships


Holiday celebrations and rites of passage are all family centered.  Other aspects of family relationships may be traced to ethnic background.  For example, the Jewish mother who cares so much for her children that she is always interfering has become a stereotype.  Yet Jewish families, Chinese families, Italian families, Greek families--all tend to have stronger ties than the generalized American family.  Religious values are handed down fro parent to child.  Other values and attitudes may also persist into the second and third generations.  These may include attitudes toward work, money, and ways to show respect to elders.  Tanned (1981) showed that Greek Americans of the second and third generations still used Greek subtle means of communicating their desires to their spouses, resulting in miscommunications when their spouses were of difference ethnic backgrounds.  These sorts of studies are more the province of the anthropologist; nevertheless, even second generation members of different ethnic groups may experience subtle problems with cross-cultural communication that are not caused by the English language itself, but rather with differences in reference, values, and expectations.


Concluding Remarks  


ESL/EFL textbooks often present American culture as monolithic.  They are not wrong; Americans share many values, attitudes, and behaviors in common, and it is important that the beginning English student learn what is American about America.  But for the advanced student, and certainly the teacher, knowledge of America's distinct diversity and its causes is also critical to understanding how and why Americans behave the way they do.  The issues presented in this paper only scratch the surface in connecting Americans' diverse heritage with their unique behaviors; many other issues are involved and each could be gone into in much more detail.  But that is the job of the historian, sociologist, and anthropologist.  Teachers need only make students aware that they will encounter differences and not to be surprised by them.


It is understood that teachers who have never had the opportunity to visit or study in the United States will find it difficult to collect materials on various ethnic groups.  But one resource should not be overlooked: Chinese who have recently settled in the US.  Surely the teacher knows of someone's first cousin living in California.  Do these new immigrants have other Chinese friends?  Do they celebrate festivals together?  Do non-Chinese attend these festivals?  Are there conflicts in family life?  Do their children feel more Chinese or more American?  They are not alone in their problems; other ethnic groups have faced the same difficulties--becoming part of the tossed salad without melting into the dressing.  One's Chinese acquaintances can also provide information on other ethnic groups they may come into contact with and tell whether they have experienced any difficulties in that contact.


It has not been meant here to downplay the importance of any ethnic group.  Emphasis was put more on European immigrant groups for two reasons: first, there are more of them; and second, this author has had more experience living among hyphenated European-Americans and feels more confident talking about their behaviors and experiences.  Nor is the discussion of the effects of America's immigration on the American's character meant to be in any way complete.  Rather, this paper is meant to show Chinese teachers of English in Taiwan that American culture is so very broad, that it is both the general American culture presented in ESL textbooks interacting with the many subcultures, of which the ethnic subcultures are only a part.


Annotated Bibliography


Claire, E.  (1983).  A foreign student's guide to dangerous English.  Rochelle Park, NJ: Eardley Publications.

Explains bathroom words and words denoting sexual activities in English.  Tells which words are socially acceptable or "safe," those which are vulgar, those which children use.  Includes a mini-dictionary of such terms, including words with several meanings only one of which is vulgar (e.g., balls, drawers).  Also has a section on ethnic insults that students should avoid.  ADVANCED/TEACHER.


Claire, E.  (1984).  What's so funny?  A foreign student's introduction to American humor.  Rochelle Park, NJ:  Eardley Publications.

As the title indicates, explains various types of American jokes.  Includes a section on ethnic jokes and advises students to avoid telling them.  ADVANCED/TEACHER.


Clark, R. C.  (1985).  Potluck: Exploring American foods and meals.  Brattleboro, VT: Pro Lingua Associates.

An intermediate reader on the varied characteristics of American foods and eating habits, such as breakfasts, lunches, dinners, brunch, casseroles and potluck, lunch boxes and brown bags, cookouts and barbecues.  Excellent for the Chinese student who imagines all Americans eating hamburgers three times a day.  LOWER INTERMEDIATE.


Condon, J. C., & Yousef, F.  (1975).  An introduction to intercultural communication.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing.

Introduces the teacher as well as general reader to some of the possible areas of conflict when two cultures meet, such as attitudes toward self, family, society, human nature, nature, and the supernatural.  Many examples from various cultures.  TEACHER.


Doty, G. G., & Ross, J.  (1973).  Language and life in the U.S.A.  Third Edition,  New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

A reader containing seventeen two-to-three page essays with exercises, all American cultural information, including social relations, sports, education, religion, the role of women, and a unit on immigration patterns.  Material a little dated.  ADVANCED.


Drews, D. A.  (1988).  Looking at American holidays: A pictorial introduction to American language and culture.  Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

An excellent collection of photos of Americans celebrating various holidays.  Includes a section on ethnic holidays.  ALL LEVELS.


Genzel, R. B., & Cummings, M. G.  (1986).  Culturally speaking: A conversation and culture text for learners of English.  New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Various exercises, including role plays and stimulus photos, to acquaint ESL students with potential areas of cultural conflict and methods of conflict solution.  Includes units on attending school, dating, attending social functions, shopping, and going to the doctor.  INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED.


Hsu, J. H.  (1980).  Language and culture: The American way.  Taipei: Crane Publishing Company Ltd.

Written from the point of view of a Chinese and particularly useful for explaining "general" American ways to Chinese.  Some discussion of different nonverbal behavior among Americans of different ethnic backgrounds (e.g., proxemics).  TEACHER.


Huizenga, J.  (1987).  Looking a American food: A pictorial introduction to American language and culture.  Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

An excellent collection of photos of various types of eateries and markets, with Americans both purchasing and consuming food in many situations.  Includes a section on ethnic eating.  ALL LEVELS.


Huizenga, J.  (1986).  Looking a American recreation: A pictorial introduction to American language and culture.  Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

An excellent collection of photos illustrating various ways Americans use their leisure time in recreational activities, including sports, county fairs, arts and crafts, and ethnic festivals.  ALL LEVELS.


Huizenga, J.  (1989).  Looking a American signs: A pictorial introduction to American language and culture.  Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

Another excellent collection of photos illustrating the variety of information presented on public signs and notices.  Included are some street scenes where signs advertising ethnic restaurants can be seen.


Kearney, E. N., Kearney, M. A., & Crandall, J. A.  (1984).  The American way: An introduction to American culture.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

A reader containing twelve essays and accompanying exercises on aspects of American culture, including the Protestant heritage, the frontier heritage, business, government, politics, education, sports, and the family.  ADVANCED/TEACHER.


Klebanow, B., & Fischer, S.  (1986).  American holidays: Exploring traditions, customs and backgrounds.  Brattleboro, VT: Pro Lingua Associates.

An intermediate reader introducing the common American holidays, but also including Martin Luther King's birthday, St. Patrick's Day, and Columbus Day, days particularly special to Black Americans, Irish Americans, and Italian Americans respectively.  INTERMEDIATE.


Laird, E.  (1987).  Faces of the USA.  New York: Longman.

An intermediate reader that introduces American people, regions institutions, work and play habits by presenting real people and giving color photos of these people and there they live or work.  Accompanying audiotape contains short interviews with fifteen of these people, covering material similar to that in the reading but in the interviewee's own words.  Excellent for listening practice but no transcripts given.  INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED.


Lanier, A. R.  (1988).  Living in the USA.  Fourth Edition.  Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, Inc.

Written as a guide for the foreigner living in the United States, it contains many useful bits of information on practical aspects of American life, from how to behave at a buffet dinner to dating habits to how to purchase insurance.  TEACHER.


Leudtke, L. S. (Ed.).  (1987).  Making America: The society and culture of the United States.  Washington, DC: United States Information Agency.

Twenty-four incisive essays by experts in their respective fields.  Four major sections: 1) building a nation; 2) expressions of American culture;3) society and values; and 4) varieties of American thought.  TEACHER.


Levine, D. R., Baxter, J., & McNulty, P.  (1987).  The culture puzzle: Cross-cultural communication for English as a second language.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

A communication text using examples, situations, role-plays to help students contrast their native culture with US culture in areas such as addressing people, complimenting, inviting, guiding and keeping the conversation going.  INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED.


Li, F. E.  (1989).  Teaching culture in the EFL/ESL classroom.  Taipei: Crane Publishing Company Ltd.

A useful little book which both argues the importance of teaching culture in the foreign language classroom and summarizes many of the teaching techniques used in teaching culture, many of which take only a few minutes of class time.  TEACHER.


Live, A. H., & Sankowsky, S. H.  (1980).  American mosaic.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall, Inc.

An advanced reader containing 33 two- to three-page readings on different ethnic groups in the United States.  Each includes the history of the groups' immigration and assimilation, their contribution to American culture (whether in food, language, arts, science, etc.), and their place in America today.  ADVANCED/TEACHER.


Queen, D.  (Ed.).  (1982).  Reflections on America and Americans: Essays on American society and culture.  Washington, DC: United States Information Agency.

A collection of fourteen essays, some by famous writers, interpreting various aspects of American culture, including "The hallmarks of America" by H. L. Mencken, "On privacy: The American dream, what happened to it?" by William Faulkner, and "The creative Dilemma" by James Baldwin.  ADVANCED/TEACHER.


Seelye, H. N. (1988).  Teaching culture: Strategies for intercultural communication.  Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

A somewhat technical book which presents the various problems of teaching culture and ways to teach and test culture.  Many examples from various cultures.  TEACHER.


Smith, E. C., & Luce, L. F. (Eds.).  (1979).  Toward internationalism: Readings in Cross-cultural communication. Rowley, MA:  Newbury House Publishers, Inc.  

A collection of essays for the native speaker/general reader on specific aspects of cross-cultural communication, including concepts of action and self, proxemics and other nonverbal behavior, the home, guest's behavior, and aspects of culture shock.  TEACHER.


Stewart, E. C.  (1972).  American cultural patterns: A cross-cultural perspective.  Taipei: Crane Publishing Company Ltd.

Analyzes American orientation toward activity, achievement, competition, cooperation, progress, the individual, and many other topics.


Tiersky, E., & Tiersky, M.  (1975).  The USA, customs and institutions: A survey of American culture and traditions.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall Regents.

Rather dated, but contains detailed explanations of many American holidays, and also cuisine, religion, and marriage and the family.  ADVANCED/TEACHER.


United States Information Agency.  (No date).  Holidays USA.  Washington, DC.

This useful book seems to have been copied so many times, some of the publication information is missing.  Although it seems to be over twenty years old, the detailed readings and activities for the major American holidays are also appropriate for today.  ADVANCED/TEACHER.


United States Information Agency.  (Dates from 1986, 1987, 1988).  About the United States.  Washington, DC.

A collection of 30 four-page pamphlets available from the American Institute in Taiwan on various aspects of American customs, institutions, and people, including Native Americans, Black Americans, ethnic groups and minorities, immigration, holidays, and religion.  ADVANCED/TEACHER.


Other References

Tannen, D.  (1981).  Indirectness in discourse: Ethnicity as conversational style.  Discourse Processes, 4(3), 221-238.

Chua-Eoan, H. G.  (1990).  Strangers in paradise.  Time, March 9, 32-35.

Henry, W. A.  (1990).  Beyond the melting pot.  Time, March 9, 28-31.

McCrum, R., Cran, W., & MacNeil, R.  (1986).  The story of English.  New York: Viking Penguin, Inc.



Chelsea House Publishers (New York and Philadelphia) has so far published 53 books under the series title The Peoples of North America, with each book in the series devoted to a different ethnic group (e.g., The Korean Americans, The Mexican Americans, The Turkish Americans).  Although classed under juvenile literature, the books are full of useful information for adults as well, and they contain many black and white and color photos.

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