The United States of America certainly is not an old country when compared to the chronology in which other countries gained their independence. Due to large-scale immigration, however, it is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse, and has often been referred to as “The Great Melting Pot”. Cultures, customs, and languages from all over the world have been introduced and maintained here as have those within from the tribes of the Native Americans, who first called this land home.
Archeological evidence conveys that Paleo-Indians were the first human inhabitants of our mainland about 15,000 years ago. They had the place all to themselves until the 16th Century, when pilgrims of Christian faith came to this land from Europe as religious separatists, along with many non-religious people (on a ship called The Mayflower—102 passengers in all). Colonization from many European countries seeking the New World populated much of the eastern coast, and eventually spanned westward across the Great Plains and finally, the Pacific coast. From 1855 to 1954, Castle Garden Immigration Depot, in Manhattan, and Ellis Island, between Jersey City, New Jersey, and New York City, were two of the most notable and bustling immigration inspection stations in the country, processing millions upon millions of new citizens.
Initially, for the most part, these first-generation immigrants kept company with their own people. Over time and as older generations have passed on, barriers between us have dissipated, as have much of the efforts in maintaining those differences. In more recent generations, the majority of us can claim heritage from many different countries; seven out of ten Americans are descendants of European immigrants. We are proud to be Americans, collectively and individually—but each of us is just as proud of his or her lineage, whether it be from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, or any of the islands in the world—and we celebrate it. We cling to the ways of our heritage because those are our roots, yet we are more willing now to explore and perhaps embrace the ways and ideas of other cultures individually. Although English is the officially recognized language, I believe German was at one time considered for this status in our country in its early days, because then, and still today, the number of German Americans vies for the top spot with those of English ancestry. In many areas of the U.S., however, not only are people's language of heritage maintained even today, they themselves may speak limited English or perhaps none at all.
Fifty constituent political entities comprise the United States: 48 of them on the mainland, grouped together; Alaska, at the northwest tip of the North American continent, near Russia; and the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Of the 48 mentioned, four of them are recognized as commonwealths: Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Each state is divided into counties or county equivalents (such as parishes, in Louisiana). Further, counties are divided into townships, cities into districts, and on and on it goes! I suppose that helps with keeping it all organized. Many cities have districts that may primarily be of one heritage or another: for instance, a “Chinatown” in Philadelphia, New York City, or another large city, comprised of mostly those of Chinese descent; a “Little Italy” in cities like Chicago or New York City; the French Quarter in New Orleans; or “Germania”, districts in which the majority of citizens are German and speak it as a first language. This is one major way in which heritage is maintained and celebrated.
As our population has grown, so too has our diversity of religion. Those of Christian faith are in the majority, but all faiths—or not, if you like—are welcome and practiced here.
Although we're all different, it's all right. The blending of our cultures and customs has helped Americans become more similar and open to each other, yet more entwined in the beautiful, multicolored fabric which is us.
It goes without saying that the process of this has not been simple, nor has it been easy. Quite the contrary. At least as many wars have been fought within these borders as have without for as many reasons—territory, religion, and freedom the most prevalent. Yet despite the contrast among us, we all rally together when the occasion or cause calls for it, and we yearn for the peace of mind that peace itself promises.