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In America today, you can connect to your ethnic heritage in dozens of ways, or adopt an identity just for an evening. Our society is not a melting pot but a salad bar--a bazaar in which the purveyors of goods and services spend close to $2 billion a year marketing the foods, clothing, objects, vacations, and events that help people express their (and others') ethnic identities. This is a huge business, whose target groups are the "hyphenated Americans"--in other words, all of us.
As immigrant groups gain economic security, they tend to reinforce--not relinquish--their ethnic identification. Marilyn Halter demonstrates that, to a great extent, they do it by shopping. And their purchasing power is enormous. How has the marketplace responded to this hunger? Instantly and wholeheartedly: tweaking old products and inventing new ones; launching new brands in supermarkets, new music groups, vacation itineraries, language courses, toys, greeting cards, et cetera. This nexus of business and ethnicity is already seen as the hottest consumer development of this decade, and Halter is uniquely qualified to describe its origins, the exponential growth of products and advertising, and the phenomenal sales of items from salsa to Chieftains CDs. She addresses her subject with an abundance of anecdotal evidence, telling examples of ethnic marketing, and interviews with entrepreneurs (many of them immigrants) who are vigorously seizing the opportunities offered by the business of ethnicity.
Shopping for Identity is provocative, intriguing, and farseeing, illuminating an important aspect of our contemporary way of life while validating the yearning we all feel for connection to our roots.
"In this highly engaging study, Marilyn Halter traces the complicated history of ethnicity and consumption in the United States. She posits that individuals and groups have always tried to becomes Americans without losing the specificity of their ethnicity—a reality that is reflected in the marketing of consumer goods....Halter deftly conveys the sweep of her findings without ever glossing over her intriguing examples. Her refreshingly radical examination of American history is an important addition to both cultural and ethnic studies."
—Publishers Weekly, July 24, 2000