While what one might call the multicultural mode or inclination first entered the verbal imagination in the United States in 1935, the OED does not recognize its nominal usage until 1957; “multiculturalism” found its way and allied to multilingualism in the journal Hispania. But before the term entered the lexicon, and certainly before it became part of a popular if not normative understanding of how to negotiate cultural difference, it was quite the vexed notion. In 1784, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur published Letters from an American Farmer, which includes the now famous chapter “What Is an American?” to which he answers in part, “Here individuals of all races are melted into a new race of man, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world” (55). Crèvecoeur sought to demonstrate that an American was one who left aside past prejudices in favor of a presumably more egalitarian mode of relationship with one’s compatriots. Yet even in this very early, proto-formulation of what would later be known as the “melting pot,” this “new race of man” could not account for a major challenge: how to incorporate those who did not hail from Europe, most notably...

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