Melting pot or salad bowl

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The melting pot has been the analogy that most have used when describing the assimilation of so many nations of peoples and cultures into one.

The United States of America has been described as a melting pot for most of its history.

According to an Internet encyclopedia (Wikipedia), it was first used in 1782 in “Letter from an American Farmer” by J. Hector St. John de Crevecouer. In his book, he extols the virtues of this new world and answers the question, what is an American?

Email newsletter signup

“He is an American, who leaving behind all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds.”

The melting pot is not a perfect analogy, but it works in many ways.

Since I like to eat, I have thought of America as a kind of stew. There are a whole lot of different kinds of meats and vegetables, maybe some fruit, and, certainly, a nut or two that are combined to make up this uniquely tasting dish known as the United States of America.

As I mentioned this idea of America as a melting pot was begun shortly after there was a United States of America and has been the most popular way of describing her. That is, until a few decades ago. In the 1970s people began to think of themselves, not as a blended part of a whole dish that had as its goal one taste, but as individual ingredients that remained separated.

More like a salad.

Whereas, the meat and potatoes, carrots and onions, and whatever else was in the melting pot joined together indiscriminately to make a stew, the parts of a salad might be in the same bowl, but not necessarily joined with each other.

As I read de Crevecouer’s definition of an American a few things jumped out at me as it pertains to the controversial nature of immigration these days. This question has commanded quite a bit of news space ever since the State of Arizona passed its law intending to protect its sovereignty against the illegal entries of the hundreds of thousands of people from Mexico, other Central America countries and some claim from the Middle East countries.

I have been bothered by the hundreds of protests throughout the country and the divisive nature in which the law, itself, has been perceived. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the protection of the nation’s borders falls under the auspices of the federal government. Arizona is suffering emotional and economic distress because the borders are not being protected. So they have voted to do it themselves and who can blame them?

I have tried to put myself in the place of the illegal entrants. I will admit that I have never known the same kind of desperation that some of them must feel. Many of them are poor and see their great northern neighbor as an answer to their despair.

As an aside, let me also acknowledge that many of the people who are crossing our borders have no desire to work here, but instead are trafficking in drugs, people or other criminal activities.

Unfortunately, both groups, as different as their ultimate goals are, have one common aspect. They both are flaunting one of the most important features of this country. They are breaking the law. With all of the shouting and protesting and name-calling that surround this issue, I can’t get past that part. They are breaking our law.

What kind of relationship begins with such a negative?

I may not understand all the dynamics of this issue and my upraising may have been protected and nave. Once again, I acknowledge the needs of these people and I understand how they may help us in our needs. Let us talk about it and make good decisions for both sides, but let us not ignore that we have a principle to uphold.

There are many other angles to immigrating into the United States. Is there work available? How about the health of the immigrant? What about their desire to become citizens and contributors? What should be our compassionate responsibilities toward the immigrant? How are our social systems going to be affected? Many questions and some of the first ones should be who are you and from where do you come?

I have tried to bring the question down to something I might understand. Say there is work to do in my personal business, my yard or my house. I have a need that another person might fulfill.

One morning I wake up from my night’s sleep and I go into my living room and find that a stranger is sitting on my sofa. I wonder how he got there and see that the window has been lifted and he has entered through it without my asking or knowing.

The first thing I want to do is call the police and get him out of my house. Instead, he wants to talk about working for me. Well, I do have a need for someone and he looks like he could fulfill the need. But, quite frankly, that’s not what I am thinking. I cannot get it out of my mind that he broke into my house illegally. It doesn’t matter that he is white or black and I haven’t even gotten around to speaking to him.

It’s a simple matter of principle.

What’s the difference in my house and Arizona?