Thursday, April 2nd, 2009, 4:15 PM
Professor Diana Selig, History, Claremont McKenna College
From the 1920s - a decade marked by racism and nativism - through World War II, hundreds of thousands of Americans took part in a vibrant campaign to overcome racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices. They celebrated the "cultural gifts" that immigrant and minority groups brought to society, learning that ethnic identity could be compatible with American ideals. In her book, Americans All: The Cultural Gifts Movement, published by Harvard University Press in 2008, Diana Selig tells the neglected story of the cultural gifts movement, which flourished between the world wars. Countering racist trends and the melting-pot theory of Americanization, the movement championed the idea of diversity long before it became a buzzword. Yet the power of Cultural Gifts was ultimately limited by a failure to grasp the deep social and economic roots of prejudice. In the year of our first African American President - who is himself the very product of a diverse cultural background - the debates over difference and unity remain at the heart of American society. Professor Selig will talk about the history of the Cultural Gifts Movement and the successes and challenges that make it so relevant today.