Melting Pot or Salad Bowl?
By: Nabil Sater / Arab America Contributing Writer
A few weeks ago, I participated in a video call honoring Arab American Heritage Month and somehow the question of, or reference to, the “Melting Pot” surfaced. As soon as I heard these two words, my migrant instinct kicked in and I had to speak up. Little did I know that my simple statement would divert much of that discussion, which was intended to be about “Art & Culture”.
Ever since I migrated from my home country of Lebanon to the United States, some forty-three years ago, I am constantly reminded of this “Melting Pot” as if it were to be somewhat of an inspiration or to define the character of a migrant nation. I can understand why and how Americans like to boast about it, while forgetting that all migrants, irrespective of their origin, had to struggle to gain inclusion and recognition. Of course, as time went by, these very same one-time immigrants started imposing their allegiance requirements on the newcomers, as if they totally forgot their predicament.
Come to find out that the whole idea of the “Melting Pot” was derived from a play. I found the following excerpt about the story “At a time of massive American immigration, a 1908 play called The Melting Pot premiered in Washington, DC from British writer Israel Zangwill. The play’s protagonist David Quixano sought to write a great symphony called The Crucible dedicated to immigration in America”.
For someone like myself, I had to be uprooted from my country to realize who I really am. You see, you never have to think about your identity when you are, after all, the master in your home.
Now that I reflect on my early years and all that I have learned since, I look at my background with immense confidence and pride. I have become a staunch believer that “my” Arab culture, heritage, and history are unparalleled. In a privileged background where I learned about several civilizations and spoke three languages, I can certainly attest to this claim or feeling.
Unfortunately, not all that migrate to this land stick to or continue to cherish their roots, for many reasons. Many come from persecution and lack of freedom, in all its forms, and simply want to forget the past. Unfortunately, many end up throwing away the “baby with the bathwater”. And this is a shame. I do recall during the 20th century how many immigrants would actually go to the extent of forbidding their children from speaking their native tongue, even at home, just so that they can make it in this “supposedly” tolerant and “equal” land. Most of us learned that not one group got their freedom or reached equality at no cost in this country. We all had and still have to struggle to earn it. And sometimes, even, keep it.
The idea of the “Melting Pot”, even when well-intended, is inherently not always inclusive. It is easy or easier for an individual with light skin color to melt amongst his other White countrymen. Being a “White Skin” man myself, I can rid myself of my name, religion, ethnicity and “melt” in the crowd. But what about the less “privileged”? And I mean this sarcastically. What about the Black, Brown, Asian, etc.? They have no “safe” options and therefore the “Melting Pot” ends up melting on itself.
I believe we should start referring to our collective society as a “Mixing Pot”, where no one is forced to give up their identity or heritage and, yet, be counted and accepted as a full American. Being American does not mean that we are all the same, instead, we can celebrate what we all bring to the table, or should I say salad bowl.