(Last Updated On: January 30, 2022)

What is an ethnic exile?

As an immigrant (national, not digital), I favored the Salad Bowl theory over the Melting Pot. I saw integration as more of a desirable outcome than assimilation. One could argue for the latter as the need to represent a “united” state. But, it shouldn’t be at the expense of one’s cultural identity (ethnic, not artistic). It’s why we call ourselves African-American, Latin-American, or Asian-American. However, after doing more research, I came across a different viewpoint.

Florida State University professor Mohamed Berray’s literary review started with a quote by University of Hawaii professor, LeAna B. Gloor.

“People are not food.”

I’m sure he understood the concept of a metaphor. Nevertheless, it can be harmless when casually discussed amongst friends but problematic when implemented through public policy.

He then introduced a third way of looking at the issue.

This socio-anthropological theory called ethnicity in exile postulates that the existing local contexts of host countries influence the choices and actions of immigrant groups from different origins.

Mohamed Berray, “A Critical Literary Review of the Melting pot and salad bowl assimilation and integration theories.”

In other words, when it comes to immigration policies, it’s better to have a collaborative rather than a competitive approach. This point sticks out with the Melting Pot theory, in that all people should assimilate to form one mold, usually determined by the dominant or prevailing group. The Salad Bowl theory at least acknowledges its various ingredients. You can identify the tomato, the lettuce, and the croutons, all integrated into a whole plate. But, as Berray noted, it is still bound by strict definitions. Variety is all well and good but subject to the whims of, again, the majority or ruling class. So how does the ethnicity in exile theory address this?

Melting pot? Salad Bowl? How about Potluck?

Salad bowl, apple and sandwich. Hardly anything that refers to an ethnic exile.
Less a salad bowl and more a You Pick Two from Panera Bread.

The literary review then provides historical examples of different ethnic groups settling in one area and developing harmonious relationships. Over time, they intermingle and share customs and practices to the point where they form one culture distinct from their old ones. Instead of people being the food, they bring it, put it on one table, and share it with everybody.

And that is why I would rather be an ethnic exile. I don’t want to impose my beliefs on anyone, nor do I want anyone to force theirs on me. We put all dishes on the table, but anyone can choose what to eat. Of course, the food has to be edible and not toxic. Most important of all, everyone has a good time.

I understand this to be both an admirable and difficult feat to achieve. If a world like this were possible, we’d have had one like it already. Sometimes, I envision a society that puts aside its petty squabbles and works towards common goals. I’ll admit, those times are getting fewer and fewer. But, I have cautious optimism to go with my healthy skepticism.