Are we getting burned?

Revisting the Melting Pot theory


My grandmother came from Russia
A satchel on her knee,
My grandfather had his father's cap
He brought from Italy.
They'd heard about a country
Where life might let them win,
They paid the fare to America
And there they melted in.
Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she's got
Is the great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.
America was founded by the English,
But also by the Germans, Dutch and French.
The principle still sticks;
Our heritage is mixed.
So any kid could be the president.
You simply melt right in,
It doesn't matter what your skin.
It doesn't matter where you're from,
Or your religion, you jump right in
To the great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.
Ooh, what a stew, red, white and blue.
America was the New World
And Europe was the Old,

America was the land of hope,
Or so the legend told.
On steamboats by the millions,
In search of honest pay,
Those nineteenth-century immigrants sailed
To reach the U.S.A.
Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she's got
Is the great American melting pot.
What good ingredients,
Liberty and immigrants.
They brought the country's customs,
Their language and their ways.
They filled the factories, tilled the soil,
Helped build the U.S.A.
Go on and ask your grandma,
Hear what she has to tell
How great to be an American
And something else as well.
Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she's got
Is the great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.

--School House Rock

Metaphors for cultural pluralism were quickly devised: not the Melting Pot, but the Mosaic, the Tapestry, the Rope of Many Strands, the Kaleidoscope, the Rainbow, or the Salad Bowl. My own plurality improves the national product there exists a national broth, but the more ingredients in it is the tastier it is. The peas and carrots can contribute to the common good without sacrificing their pea-ness or carrot-ness; one doesn't try to melt out their flavor. (Griffin)

 

The ditty written by the creators of School House Rock does make one chagrin when they realize what the melting pot turned out to be. The Great Amrerican Melting Pot, became synonymous to some as the Great Anglo-American Assimilation movement. In essence, a melting pot conveyed that all people of the United States were to come together and amalgamate into a monolithic national identity. Of course, the national prevailing identity did not always benefit, attract, or even acknowledge particular American encalves.

Later in sociological and anthropological literature, a number of analogies were created to better describe America's culture. As the quote from Griffin points out, the new analogies for the American identity imagined bits, pieces or strands of cultural characteristics that were held together by a national glue. With each analogy, there was a problem, however. "Mosaic" and "tapestry" alluded to a sort stagnancy and immobility. "Salad bowl" meant people moved only within their respective cells- a tomato stayed a tomoato, never to mesh with a lettuce leaf or a cucumber. Whatever, the anology one could find a partnering criticism.

However, when it comes to American popular culture and its commodification of ethnic materials, is the melting pot idea acutally the truest fit? Does the American packaging of objects from Arrowhead Water to Kentucky Fried Chicken to Ginseng lead to tidy hegemonic product lines? If this is the case, how are we as a society, an individual, or part of a defined community affected by this melt down? Or is this packaging actually enhancing our diversity by preserving our ethnically individual "flavors", in other words, our "pea-ness and carrot-ness"?

 

 

 

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