Europe Should Make America's 'Melting Pot' Its Own

Why is it that the United States has a much easier time integrating immigrants into American society than the French have integrating newcomers into French society? According to this op-ed article from Mexico's El Universal, much of the reason is the deep-seated American desire to integrate immigrants, regardless of their nation of origin or immigration status.

By Gabriel Székely  

Translated by Richard Hauenstein

March 15, 2006

Mexico - El Universal - Original Article (Spanish)

Rioting By Muslim Immigrants in the Paris Suburbs
Spread Across France Last Year, Highligting Concern
that the Country is not Doing a Good Job Integrating New
Arrivals Into French Society. (above and below).


1998 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, José Saramago,
Advises More Circumspect Use of Press Freedom. (above);

[RealVideoNobel Prize Winner José Saramago]

One of the Cartoons Found Offensive By Muslims:
Is This Taking Press Freedom Too Far? (below).


This past Saturday, in a city famed all over the world for its porcelain, in Limoges, France, an event occurred that was reported to us by the Madrid paper El País, and which offers an account of one of the great challenges facing us today in relation to the West's self-image, as a cultural concept or category.

Now then: a Muslim couple of French nationality chose not to marry rather than comply with legal requirements that insist she expose her face publicly, for a moment, to corroborate that she is one of the two people requesting this ceremony, presided over by civil authorities; she was even offered a separate room, and could have returned to the ceremony with her face still covered. Who was right here?

The answer to this question may seem simple to those who are convinced of the power of the secular state, but this view is contrary to the wishes of those who profess the Muslim faith, and who only wish to uphold a tradition set down in their own laws. Such cases have provoked something more than a sharp debate around the world, a debate that is now taking place in the pages of some Mexican and foreign newspapers. I think it’s important to vigorously put these thoughts together, with some reflections that I hope will be useful.

The writer and Nobel Prize winner José Saramago responds to those who, on the matter of the now famous cartoons that ridicule the prophet Mohammed and which saw the light of day months ago in a Danish newspaper, have come to the defense of freedom of the press at all costs. They argue that the cartoons represent reasonable criticisms of certain aspects of Muslim culture, such as unequal treatment of women, Islam's social structure and its support for authoritarian politics. In this way, they justify their irreverence toward religious symbols.

The public has been especially confused by the argument that this so-called irreverence is the nucleus of freedom in the West, and for cartoonists in its media. Saramago asks, what would happen to any writer if, for the sake of showing the fullness of liberty, he wrote an insulting article about his editor; logically, to run the piece would exceed the limits of prudence, of good taste, or whatever, and the editor is not expected to support the insults of a radical hiding behind a noble principle to commit his act.

It therefore appears as though it were a fundamental principle, that for the sake of free expression it is acceptable to write or draw anything one wishes for publication, in whatever circumstance. This seems reasonable, because only the values that have flourished in the West for so many years are being considered. But when questioned by men and women of other faiths and customs, such a principle may be considered offensive when exercised; therefore, it necessary for other values to intervene and to complement this principle [of free expression]. Prudence and a respect for other cultures is a good example to follow.

Another way to analyze this clash of cultures is to look at immigration. The crisis a few months ago with the Muslim population of Paris spoke not only to accumulated frustration of mainly North African immigrants and their children at being marginalized or half-accepted by the French. It also highlighted the determination of French Muslims to affirm their culture, despite contradictory French laws and customs. This is the great nightmare of nations in which immigration has grown so much.

America's Melting Pot:
A Concept That is Worth Repeating.


Why is this problem occurring in France, but not the United States? Perhaps it’s because in the U.S. there is greater insistence on labeling the concept, with great precision, as a social phenomenon. This concept is aptly described by the "Anglicism" the melting pot.  Everyone who lives in the United States "is cooked in the same pot" without ever considering national origin or immigration status. Those who fail to accept this will be rejected by the local [U.S.] culture. Of course, this alone doesn’t mean that Latinos, Vietnamese or Africans are automatically integrated into U.S. society.

In Washington and in several U.S. states that border Mexico, it is feared that as the years pass, the Latino population will not have been properly integrated due to a lack of educational opportunities; or because of the desperate means utilized to enter the country, Mexicans will cling to Mexican religious symbols while making increased social demands in the United States. Few things cause a greater bellyache for the typical North American, than seeing a parade of Mexicans in downtown Phoenix or Los Angeles, carrying the Mexican tricolor [flag] and another from the [Mexican] State of Guadalupe. Americans are disturbed by these symbols, which they regard as the rejection by Mexicans of total integration into the culture of the United States.

It is hard to know what the reaction of Mexican society would be in the face of a similar display, because the great majority of immigrants we have received have distinguished themselves as businessmen, intellectuals and in other professions. The exception may be Central American immigrants living in some regions of the Southeast, where they occupy the lowest rung of the social ladder, and have not been made welcome to integrate themselves into local society; at times, they even suffer open discrimination.

We all accept that diversity and tolerance in the face of the unknown are critical elements for living together. The events described here show that the moment has arrived to confront reality and give substance to our words.

Coordinator of Advisors to the Secretary of Tourism