I grew up being told that one of the greatest things about this country was that we were a melting pot. it was held up as the ideal – this makes us a great nation, I was told. As a kid, I had no idea what that meant, so I looked it up. While the origins are varied, a number of sources I found say it was originally “smelting” pot; a container that was used to take different metals or other objects and melt them together to make something new. It became a metaphor for American diversity; the idea that each immigrant group that come to this country was added to the mixture and made into a “real” American. They didn’t have to give up everything, but they did have to pledge allegiance to the flag. Considering the dangerous situations each nationality came from, the loss of their previous identities seemed worth it to be free of tyranny. The image of the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants is iconic, especially to those of us who grew up in its shadow. That willingness to welcome, it seems, has changed.
In recent decades, however, new metaphors have been used to describe the American experience of assimilation. Stir fry or fruit salad seems far more apt; each ingredient becomes one in this new creation and is still distinct. This visual is not without its detractors; arguments over learning English continue to plague our national discourse. Of course, this is nothing new; the well-documented brawls over whether German or English should be our national language show us that assimilation has always been a sticking point. And, of course, entire populations were forced to assimilate; people stolen from Africa and the forced migration of Native Americans are two of the most heinous crimes against humanity ever committed. We are still learning about the evil effects of forced assimilation on Native people in America and Canada, and I have no doubt there is more to come.
I agree that we need to be united around our love of country and the Constitution, but the idea that one should lose one’s identity in order to be a good citizen is a lie. We have always cherished our ancestors; I still get asked what my background is (I’m a mutt). Why, then, do so many people get upset when people proclaim their love of where they came from? There were people in this country who flew Nazi flags in the 1920’s! This was before we realized what Hitler was truly up to, but still; it was a thing. And since English is still the dominant language, it seems clear that being able to speak and write it well is important to be a success here. Still, I appreciate the diversity I see; especially among those I get to work with. I am excited to learn about other places through the eyes of those who came from there. I think we are enriched, both personally and as a nation, when new ingredients are added to the stir fry. Diversity is what makes us healthy. We should cherish it.
Prayer – God of the stir fry and the salad bowl, thank You for the many flavors that enrich and enliven, and make us better. It is all beautiful. Amen.
Today’s art is “Patriot Act” by Jen Norton.