Posted by: nickgerlich | July 1, 2008

Tossed Metaphors

A hundred years ago, the majority of immigrants to the US came through New York City. Ellis Island was the main point of entry for these noble newcomers, and from thence they stayed either in The Big Apple or migrated to points inland.

And the moral imperative placed upon all immigrants was that they would quickly blend into America, melted into the pot of local culture. It was an apt metaphor, and captured the spirit of the day. At the time of the Industrial Revolution, it was probably more out of necessity than convenience that everyone come together as a unified whole.

Tossed SaladToday, though, immigration is vastly different. The flow from Europe has reduced to a trickle, with most immigrants now coming either from the south (Mexico, and Central and South America) or the west (Asia). Ellis Island is but a fond memory of a bygone era, because our culture is no longer an amalgam of inputs, but rather a zesty salad bowl that tastes good together, yet with each ingredient retaining its own unique flavor.

The US has always been a mutt nation, and to its great strength. The pooling of genes and cultures has created a veritable smorgasbord of tasty influences. Thatïs not to say one cannot find similar variety elsewhere around the world (I am convinced there is no town on the planet without a Chinese restaurant). But when you consider that the US has always been an immigrant magnet, it is easy to see that the Mall of America is but a metaphor for our cultural diversity.

It is the shift in metaphors, though, from melting pot to salad bowl, that causes discomfort for some folks. There is often an implicit expectation that all newcomers hurry up and “get with the program,” trading their old colors for the familiar red, white, and blue. And this is just as true for international immigrants as it is for those migrating within the country.

You see, it is just as strange for a Brit to embrace American football or a Lao to like meatloaf as it is for a Yankee to don cowboy boots and start saying “y’all” when they move to Texas. It’s OK to do these things, but there is no cultural imperative to suddenly blend into the surroundings.

I’ll take the salad bowl any day over the melting pot. It’s what allows us to retain our identities while at the same time becoming part of the greater whole. And it lets us to dine at the global buffet of diversity.

Dr “Pass The Dressing, Please” Gerlich


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