When I first came to the U.S. as a “cultural ambassador”, my first class was Introduction to American Life. In it, I was taught that “how are you?” actually means “hi” and that people asking may have no interest in hearing how I’m doing (a topic for a future post). I also learned that America was a “melting pot” in which people from different ethnicities, countries and religions came together as one. This to me sounded so beautiful, I struggled to understand why then the African American students at the dorm hung out by themselves, as did most everyone from their own race.
It seemed to me that this “pot” may be cooking oil and water, two things that did not mix, no matter how hard you try. Or perhaps it was making sancocho, a delicious Dominican stew with several meats and vegetables held together by a creamy sauce. America was that sauce that allowed many cultures, ethnicities and religions to coexist, and produce a great flavor, but hardly melt. This last statement is less a criticism and more an acknowledgement of the difficulty of bringing together people with little in common, in an environment where they are all encouraged to embrace and perpetuate their beliefs. It’s easy for races to melt when they share the same culture, when the moral compass is clear and social pressure discourages cultural dissonance. It becomes harder when more and more things set them apart (religion, traditions, sexual orientation, etc.). So, I concluded that America was a sancocho, not a melting pot. “Juntos, pero no revueltos”, as the Dominican saying goes (read: together, but not scrambled).
However, the face of America is definitely changing: California a majority-minority state, immigrants moving to smaller towns where the jobs are, interracial couples on the rise, a biracial president, just to name a few examples. These are exciting times. Today I attended “meet the teacher night” at my daughter’s preschool and noticed that out of seven families, two were interracial, three were immigrants and the rest white. India, China, Dominican Republic, South Africa and America: white and black, all represented in that tiny room. At least half the children in that room could be considered “of color” and “multi-color” at that. Now that is a melting pot. Juntos y revueltos (together and scrambled), mixing race and culture and just seeing what comes out of that. What my eyes saw was a lot of beauty. I am joyous at the many multi-racial children I see playing at the mall. I am excited at the biracial families I run into everywhere… in corn country USA. I don’t worry that my daughter will be different. I am just glad she will be.