The Melting Pot Revisited

I remember hearing the term, “melting pot” used to describe America. That was back in the ’60s. 

The idea was that America takes all sorts of disparate human parts from  Europe, Africa, and Asia, and melts them down into an ingot called an American.  All traces of your old self were to disappear as you took on the new identity.

That was the theory. Of course, America was “whiter” back then.

Now, depending on who you listen to  America either soon will, or already has passed the point where European Americans are the majority.

And there are other significant changes. We no longer pretend that one loses their ethnic identiity in becoming an American. Whether that is healthy or not, I don’t know, but it feels more realistic in any case. Pretending is not usually a good thing.

At the same time, look at our sports teams: in the Stanley Cup we have the Boston Bruins with a Finn in goal, Slovak-Ukrainian-German and Canadian defensemen, on offense a Serb, a Czech and some more Canadians. Over at Fenway park it is even more pronounced with Japanese, Domincans, other Latinos, African-Americans, the only Navajo ever to play in the majors (Jacoby Ellsbury), and even a sprinkling of Euro-Americans on the 25 man roster. In a sense, it feels very melting pottish. They may not all be Americans, but it is a case of many ethnicities coming together, working together in an almost 1960’s U.N. kind of ideal.

Last week I tuned into the Daily Show to catch the “real” news and there’s British comedian/actor John Oliver filling in for Jon Stewart and hosting the editor of Time magazine – Indian born Fareed Zakaria. It was a truly international conversation with humor coming from Oliver “apologizing” to Zakaria for 19th century British Imperial attitudes and deeds and “bad map drawing” (the partitiion of India/Pakistan).   It was a briliiant conversation and I felt like an old fart from a dim past where only white guys talked to white guys on the news about what strange people were doing to each other in far off lands. But now here’s the “strange people” on TV neither looking nor sounding strange. And best of all, it matters that these two are not white Americans mainly in how it influences their ability to speak about important issues with first hand knowledge and with grace and humor.

I think this is a good thing.

Comments | 1

  • well said..

    Thinking about this sent me in search of the poem at the Stature of Liberty. It’s called the New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus:

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    It’s quite a statement.

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