As a nation founded by European immigrants, the United States had to grapple with the concept of what it means to be an American. In seeking to become American, many immigrants adopted one model of assimilation, Anglo-conformity. This model promoted subordination of immigrant cultural values and customs to American holidays, civic rituals, and the English language which was stressed by the public school system. Even in colonial times multiple cultures were evident, although the dominant culture was British with the values of speaking English, governing based on common law, and practicing Protestant Christian beliefs. The goal was to emulate the cultural traits of white Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASPS).

Theories held that the process of assimilation would follow one of two routes, Anglo-conformity or blending into American society as part of the ‘‘melting pot.’’ Both routes led to fast track assimilation and Americanization.

Anglo-conformity was an underlying premise of the Immigration Act of 1924, which reinforced the primacy of European immigration. It  established national quotas, which favored immigrants from Northwestern Europe. Asian immigrants, however, were excluded from the US  beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, followed by the Act of 1924 that barred Japanese entry by denying them a quota. Two groups already present in American society were not part of this assimilation process. Both Native Americans and African Americans were excluded. Native Americans were confined to reservations, while African Americans faced segregation.

Since the Immigration Act of 1965 the Anglo-conformity model of assimilation has been challenged by the rise of ethnic consciousness. Immigrants in the post 1965 wave came primarily from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These immigrants caused a reexamination of what it means to be American. Was the criterion for becoming American merely to speak English or to conform to an antiquated image of American equaling white, a synonym for European looking? The new immigrants, often referred to as people of color, con founded the notion that all Americans looked like the earlier European immigrants.

Anglo-conformity is now just one of many ways of being American. In a multicultural society a growing number of Americans may not speak English as their primary language and prefer to retain the cultural traditions of their ancestors. The formation of American identity continues to be an evolving process.


  1. Alba, R. (1990) Ethnic Identity: The Transformation of White America. Yale University Press, New Haven.
  2. Glazer, & Moynihan, D. P. (1963) Beyond the Melting Pot. MIT and Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  3. Gleason, (1990) Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth Century America. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  4. Gordon, M. (1964) Assimilation in American Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Haney Lopez, I. F. (1994) White By Law. New York University Press, New
  6. Hollinger, A. (1995) Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. HarperCollins, New York.
  7. Lieberson, & Waters, M. C. (1988) From Many Strands: Ethnic and Racial Groups in Contempor ary America. Russell Sage Foundation,  New York.
  8. Novak, (1972) The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics: Politics and  Culture  in  the  Seventies. Macmillan, New York.
  9. Zack, N. (1993) Race and Mixed Race. Temple University Press,
  10. Zelinsky, (2001) The Enigma of Ethnicity. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.

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