Thus, it’s no surprise that America is described as a melting pot, a vessel in which various metals are heated together to become one cohesive, molten mass. America is a figurative melting pot because we’re a nation of immigrants. Let’s examine what that means. An immigrant is a person who leaves his or her homeland and resettles in another place. Except for people of pure Native American heritage, all Americans can be considered immigrants (or the descendants of immigrants). From the first Jamestown colonists to the last person passing through customs this very day, we all came to America from somewhere else. Even Native Americans originally came to the North American continent from Asia during prehistoric times. However, Native Americans have been here so long that they’re considered America’s indigenous people. The term indigenous is derived from Latin words meaning “inborn” or “original.” Thus, an indigenous group comprises the descendants of a land’s original inhabitan.
Today, few places on earth are inhabited solely by indigenous people. Since ancient times, groups of humans have abandoned their original homes and resettled in other places. When this happens, they encounter the indigenous people of the place to which they have traveled. This is how the mixing of cultures begins. In ancient times human resettlement was spontaneous and usually not generated by governments. However, by the early 1600s some European nations sought to relocate some of their citizenry to other parts of the world in order to create colonies in Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, and North America. Colonists are people sponsored by a sovereign nation to travel to a new, unclaimed land and create permanent settlements under the control of that nation. Colonists transplant the culture of one nation to another. Thus, the migration of colonists is international.
By the late 1700s, several new nations had been created from former colonies. These vast new nations had large tracts of unsettled land, and they encouraged exploration and resettlement into unsettled areas. Pioneers are citizens of a sovereign nation who travel into the wilderness and create permanent settlements in previously unsettled areas of that nation. Like colonists, pioneers also bring their culture to their new homes. Because they resettle from one area of a nation to another, the migration of pioneers is considered intranational.
Once a region’s first settlers are established, the stage is set for other groups to arrive. Some groups arrive unwillingly. For example, many European convicts and all African slaves were forced to emigrate, or leave their homelands. However, most emigrants leave of their own accord to escape persecution or to find economic opportunity. In the mid-1800s, more people began leaving their homelands to resettle in other parts of the globe. Many came to America. Because of this, the period from 1850 to 1930 is often called the Age of Immigration. By the mid1800s, however, many of the world’s regions had already been settled by colonists or pioneers. Settlers arriving after that date can be called second settlers. In this book, second settlers are frequently called immigrants, although colonists and pioneers are technically immigrants as well.
When immigrants arrive in a region, they add yet another element to the cultural mix, making an already blended culture more complex. Some regions experience several, or many, successive waves of immigration. In fact, unless a nation closes its borders to new immigrants, immigration remains an ongoing phenomenon. Now that you understand how new people arrive in a particular region and know the specific terms used for the various settlement groups, we can go on to discuss how these various groups create a regional cuisine. But first, we’ll present some basic information on food culture and cuisine. Knowing about these topics will help you think about and discuss the regional cuisines that you’ll soon encounter.