The Flaw in the Melting Pot Analogy
My dad’s people came from Ireland, and my mother’s people came from Germany. I don’t know much about my dad’s side of immigrants, but when my mother’s mother landed at Ellis Island with her whole family as a young child, their father told them, “From this day on, we speak only English.” Although my grandmother and her siblings spoke German amongst themselves, there was a real push to blend in with Americans and show their appreciation of their new country by becoming American and leaving behind their German culture.
My mother never learned to speak German. There wasn’t much talk about the old country. In fact, the only thing I remember my mother saying about German customs was that her mother used to put real candles on their Christmas tree, because that’s how they did it in Germany (is anyone else picturing houses going up in flames?).
During World War II, my grandmother, who I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting, told her three daughters not to tell anyone they were of German ancestry. When they handed out ration stamps for food, she donated everything in her pantry she already had on hand and started from scratch. My mother never said, and I don’t think it makes a difference regarding that selfless act, but I wonder if she was desperate to prove that she was American, not German. I’m sure, more than ever, she wanted to blend in with everyone else, and she did. Sadly, for Japanese-Americans, due to physical characteristics, it was not so easy to blend in, and they ended up going to the relocation camps.
The United States of America is known to be a melting pot, and that description is meant to be positive, but if you think of it, it’s not so complimentary. At the bottom of it, we may have a reputation of welcoming the poor, the destitute, etc. (although that image has taken a beating over the last several years), but only if they are willing to do things our way and forget about their heritage and ancestry. A lot of Americans don’t appreciate diversity and get it confused with patriotism or a lack of it. Some people feel threatened by those who come from other countries, speak different languages, practice different religions, or in short, want to combine with the American way, rather than blend in.