Advertising and films stand among the messages most carefully crafted to achieve their impact. As such they can throw only a partial light on the everyday life of the people who live in the United States. The next set of essays comes closer to the experience of struggling with a cultural environment that provides models of the world that appear particularly realistic and yet are always somewhat "off" from what one might want to say or to be known as having said.
The chapters by Singer and by Myerhoff and Mongulla examine what "ethnicity" can do. They raise the well-worn "melting pot" issues in a new way that moves us beyond the old dichotomy. In their essays "ethnicity" does not appear to be a passing stage in American history that full enculturation of all immigrants would make moot. After many generations in theUnited States, it still makes sense to say that one is of "old Scottish stock," whether or not one can specify genealogical links to Scotland and whatever the amount of intermarriage. Conversely, it seems more and more difficult to argue, as the apologists of the "new ethnicity" affirmed in the 1960s (Glazer and Moynihan 1963; Novak 1971), that ethnicity is persisting as an issue because people in the United States remain "different." While there are undoubtedly pockets of such difference, what is interesting in the political aspects of ethnicity is that it is effective even in the absence of difference. Indeed, Myerhoff and Mongulla suggest that ethnicity becomes an issue precisely when difference is threatened - that is, when the signs of the difference are dissolving, melting away. How can middle-class Jews in a large urban center that does not have a strong Jewish presence establish that they exist? This is the question that Jewish leaders in Los Angeles asked themselves. And by asking this question they also suggested that "the Jews" are not the obvious presence that those arguing for a substantive "ethnicity" affirmed they were. "The Jews" are a set of symbols that must be manipulated if a message is to be sent that one wishes to identify, even only temporarily, with Jewishness. For such a message to be understood it must, like a commercial, make use of a historical, cultural dialect that may be more attuned to its intended audience than to the dialect the speakers use among themselves.
In effect, both essays suggest that, along with motherhood and apple pie, ethnicity is a pillar of American culture. Schneider (1969) led the way toward such an analysis when he showed how formally similar are the domains of kinship, nationality, and ethnicity. Ruskin and Varenne (1983) have tried to recast this argument by showing that ethnicity is also a "discourse," that is, a structured manner of creating a conversation about a topic. As a topic, ethnicity is "different" from religion, political affiliation, or family. As a discourse that makes sense and can convince, it may have the same shape as other discourses about social organization. Families, denominations, clubs and such associations are "groups." So are "ethnics." It is not surprising that they should all bespoken about in similar terms of "substance" and "code for conduct" in Schneider's words - that is, in terms of the substantive characteristics (a property of the individual member) around which is formed a social entity within which certain behaviors are used for identifying purposes.
This analysis should call to mind Beeman's focus on the paradoxes of choice and conformity that he sees unfolding around advertising. Ethnicity, of course, does not seem to be a product one can buy. And yet there is something strikingly effective in a headline used by "Newsweek" magazine for a story on conversion: "Becoming a 'Jew-by-Choice' " (28 January 1985). By the second or third generation, people are rarely simply Irish or Italian. They are probably enough of a mixture that it is difficult to escape the implication that one must make a choice: to affirm oneself as Irish, as Italian, or as nothing. Few things may be more American than the tale of the daughter of a Protestant Scotsman from Northern Ireland and a Catholic woman from Southern Ireland who affirms herself as Catholic Irish while being tempted by liberal Protestant theology, is married to a Frenchman, and lets her children be identified as French.
I write this tale of my wife deliberately to call upon one of the most famous origin myths of America, usually attributed to Crevecoeur, who wrote in 1782 of a family "whose father was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced .... Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men" (as quoted by Glazer and ,Moynihan 1963, 288). Crevecoeur, like Glazer and Moynihan, seems to assume that the melting process will - or would if it worked - make ethnic identifications moot. As Sollors has shown (1980), the persistence of the theme throughout the history of America's self-understanding is striking. The theme, however, manifests itself only in dialectical tension with the countertheme of the immorality and unreality of the melting pot. Sollors suggests that Zangwill's play "The Melting Pot"(1911), usually credited with expressing the ideal or concept, can be read as a somewhat under handed, but definite, celebration of ethnic pluralism that persists even in intermarriage. Conversely, he ironically highlights passages in Glazer and Moynihan, Novak, and others that reinstate the melting pot as a description of the present leading to a new future. Here, for example, is the last sentence of "Beyond the Melting Pot:" "The American nationality is still forming: its processes are mysterious, and the final form, if there is ever to be a final form, is as yet unknown" (Glazer and Moynihan 1963, 315).
What all this suggests is that, whether people in the United States are becoming more or less homogeneous - and there is indication that they are becoming less rather than more - a complex discourse is available to them. In this discourse powerful agents "leave behind," "receive," "embrace" (choose?). Clearly, this discourse requires the construction of alternative modes of life so that they can be chosen. If ethnicity is indeed something around which "choice" is an issue, then we might predict for the future that the more Americans intermarry, the more they become culturally alike, the more ethnic identification becomes a possibility that can be handled more and more "regularly" within the culture.
Singer examines the Americanization of ethnicity through a discussion of Lloyd Warner's analysis of two "Yankee City" ritual occasions: Memorial Day ceremonies and the Tercentenary procession. Both symbolically express aspects of the organization of Yankee City, the former stressing unity and equality through the symbols of nationalism, the latter stressing difference and hierarchy by overemphasizing the symbols of ethnicity. Which is the "real" Yankee City? We can't tell. But we can observe the people manipulating these symbols for political purposes: no wonder the "ethnics" of the thirties were more interested in Memorial Day than in "ethnic" floats controlled by the old Yankees. No wonder, as the "ethnics" came to political and economic power, the relationship of the groups to the symbols changed. More wonderful certainly is the fact that, in the absence of the old Yankees, the new generations that inhabit Yankee City in the seventies continue to express themselves in public rituals so as to affirm both democratic egalitarianism (now expressed in the right all people have to display themselves as "Yankee" in certain rituals) and "ethnic" differentiation (now expressed in the traditional terms of national origin and also in such categories as outsiders/ newcomers versus insiders/ old-timers).
The emphasis in the essays is on the actual performance and theatrical representation of ethnicity. Both demonstrate the difficulty of constructing events appropriate to the message to be expressed. It is as if we had caught the advertisers in the act of producing an ad. Singer insists on the symbolic character of this message and refers us back to Warner's detailed analysis of the constituent parts of civic rituals. Myerhoff and Mongulla offer a detailed account of the process through which an appropriate ritual is built in the kind of ritual "bricolage" that Lévi-Strauss has placed at the center of all cultural activity (1966). I think of it as a process of "improvisation," for such parades are both performances that are strongly constrained on formal grounds and new statements that use old forms to make effective political statements in new contexts. In parades the distinction between author and audience gets blurred. Parades are special moments, but they are also part of everyday Iife.