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What Happened to the Melting Pot?

June 9, 2009
What Happened to the Melting Pot?
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – Henry Ford

 A few weeks ago, I stopped in a local grocery store to do a little shopping.  When I walked in, I noticed a sign on the door that announced they were hiring a part-time produce clerk.  The store was pretty crowded that day and as I waited in line for what had to be half an hour, I noticed an older black man come in with some paperwork in his hand and ask the cashier if she could call a manager.  He was probably in his 60’s, maybe his early 70’s, very polite and friendly to the cashier or anyone else who passed by him – exactly the type of guy you would want to have as your father or grandfather. 

The manager finally came to speak to the man and he handed him his application for the clerk position.  The manager looked it over and seemed impressed.  He asked him about his experience, noted that he had a very nice resume and asked why he was interested in a lowly job like that after working some of the places he had worked in his lifetime.  The man explained that he was retired but his grandson was coming to live with him and his wife and he wanted to make a few extra dollars so he could take good care of him.  They seemed to have all but sealed the deal when the manager said, “Oh wait, I forgot to ask: do you speak Spanish?” 
The man looked at him as though he asked him if he had ever been to the moon and chuckled, “No sir, I’m afraid not.  They didn’t teach that sort of thing when I was in school.  I know the kids learn that stuff early now, but you have to keep in mind I am an older man.  I grew up in a different time.”  The manager’s demeanor went from very pleasant to completely uncaring in just seconds.  He mumbled something about how that would not work, thanked the guy for coming in, quickly turned around, and walked off, leaving the man looking surprised and confused.  It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed, but it left me asking myself an important question:  what happened to the melting pot? 
I remember learning what the term “melting pot” meant when I was in school and thinking it was a wonderful phenomenon.  I must confess, I was a rather patriotic child and something about the term “melting pot” made me love my country even more.   The term helped me fully understand just why the Statue of Liberty says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”  In the United States, we take in everyone who comes here legally, no matter where they are from or what their circumstances and simply by becoming citizens, they are subject to the rights and liberties that those of us who were lucky enough to have been born here are guaranteed.  They fall in line and become Americans.  They may be of different races, relgions, sizes, shapes, genders, etc., but above all else, they – we – are Americans. 
In my lifetime, I have heard many stories from friends about their parents and grandparents coming to this country to escape socialism, communism, and tyranny among other things.  They came here because they saw the United States as the “shining city on the hill” and a land of opportunity they would find nowhere else.  They took jobs, worked hard and they immediately tried to learn the language spoken by the majority as they knew it would be the easiest way to become successful.  They expected nothing but freedom.  But it was also not about losing their individualism and unique cultural characteristics; it was about becoming one single group of Americans who, for all of our differences, had in common the love and desire for everything this country stands for.
Today, I am not sure the immigrants have changed so much as a select few Americans have.  Where the United States Constitution was once our final authority, it seems as though political correctness has taken over.  We no longer want what’s best for the greater good or for the country. We are too caught up in what feels good for the individual.  No longer does the majority rule, but one “offended” person can overturn the traditions of an entire holiday or take away the freedom of speech or religious rights of an entire population.   In my town, only 3.99% of the population speaks Spanish as their first language, but that 3.99% was enough to take a part-time job that used to be good enough for any teenager who could barely read away from an educated, well-mannered, hard-working man because he quite possibly wouldn’t be able to understand 3.99% of the customers. 
Unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight to this lack of patriotism.  We have a President who travels the globe, apologizing for the very characteristics that make us unique and appealing to those who were not born here.  We no longer stand proud of the framework our Founding Fathers provided us with, instead we devalue it by ignoring it or searching for flaws and missing pieces.  No other country on earth has this sort of attitude.  No other country on earth is afraid to fix an illegal immigration problem or require students learn the mainstream language before attending school.    

 This new attitude is destroying our place in the world, our place in history, and most of all, the freedom and rights that make our lives unlike those of any other people who have ever walked this earth.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. AmericanHumanist permalink
    June 9, 2009 7:45 pm

    I have some disagreements with what you write. First of all, the idea of the American “melting pot” has been largely dismissed as an inaccurate way of visualizing America. The melting pot implies that citizens become one homogeneous alloy that embodies the American ideal. While this is true in some important cases, like adopting liberal ideals and democratic values, individuals who become American also retain pieces of their original selves, like ethnic heritage, language and other cultural values. In this sense they maintain their own unique identities while also becoming American. No American is a carbon-copy of any other; this is what makes America, a nation of immigrants, so special. What you identify as special seems to actually be a fairly broad practice observable in most other democratic industrialized states, especially in Western Europe. For example:

    “In [Germany], we take in everyone who comes here legally, no matter where they are from or what their circumstances and simply by becoming citizens, they are subject to the rights and liberties that those of us who were lucky enough to have been born here are guaranteed. They fall in line and become [Germans]. They may be of different races, relgions, sizes, shapes, genders, etc., but above all else, they – we – are [Germans].”

    The acceptance of legal immigrants into the citizenry is common practice. The amalgamation of cultures from all around the world–that’s what makes America great.

    Second, you refer to the “shining city on the hill” as the destination of immigrants who abandoned their own nation to come to our country. This is misleading, as it suggests that immigrants come to America to be part of the ideal Christian nation, which America most certainly is not. This term for America was coined by the Puritans before America was a state and before our 13 colonies existed; it was a dream they had to create a Christian state that European Protestants would envy. It is true that the majority of Americans identify as Christian (including Catholics), but that number is falling. Also, the Framers of the Constitution intended to keep our nation ambiguous in terms of religion and language, despite the popularity of Christianity and English, because they valued liberalism in the state above all else. Most of them wanted to avoid monarchical or tyrannical rule, so advocated for liberal values in our democratic state. In fact, when considering what language to make the official language of the US, they considered not just English, but also German and Hebrew.

    Another fun fact: German was so widely spoken in the United States that many public schools had bilingual classes in English and German; these only declined when Germany became belligerent, during and after World War I. As you can see, America has historically catered to its largest immigrant populations, even if they didn’t speak very good English.

    Third, the Constitution should never be America’s final authority, but a basis on which to make further decisions. As you say, it was a “framework”, something that set the tone, something to be build upon. How could the Framers have possibly predicted the infinite possibilities of the evolution of law and of human nature? No doubt, they were ahead of their time, which is why America has been so successful, but the Framers were by no means omniscient. And political correctness has very little to do with the Constitution.

    Fourth, the decision of the store manager to refuse the man the job has nothing to do with the Constitution. He was responding to the market. If the manager saw that many of his customers spoke only Spanish, or that potential customers were leaving the store empty-handed because they could not find what they needed, then it makes sense that he would want to hire a Spanish-speaker. America is capitalist, and the store manager wanted more money. By no means am I defending his actions, as I would have given the man the job were I in that situation. Capitalism is by no means perfect, and by no means is it fair, but it is also an integral part of America that influences every business and market situation.

    You are not identifying a “lack of patriotism”, but simply offering a misguided, xenophobic criticism of Spanish-speaking immigrants and their affect on capitalism and the overall American economic structure. That doesn’t sound very American.

  2. Mike permalink
    June 10, 2009 11:03 am

    3.99% of the customers, huh? Do you shop there much?

    What’s the difference between 3.99% of the customers, and 75% of your coworkers and people working under you?

    Jeez, for all of your concern, you certainly didn’t speak up.

    Get back in line for shearing, bleat time is over.

  3. June 10, 2009 11:35 pm

    I’m in agreement with Sarah for the most part. I do think it’s unfair to deny the man a job just because he can’t speak Spanish; it’s discriminatory. I was in my local grocery store last week trying to buy a can of spray starch and couldn’t even read the cans because they were all in Spanish.

    Call that xenophobic if you wish, but I’d like to think that I can buy things in America without being bilingual.

    I have no problem opening the doors of America to anyone who comes here legally; but the effect of illegals on capitalism can’t be denied. It came up just this week in discussions of nationalized health care. 61% of the uninsured in San Francisco are illegals which according to some models, must be insured. The illegals flood the schools, the health care system, and the job market, and you can’t assume that doesn’t affect capitalism in some degree.

    I don’t think the author of this post is advocating that we all speak nothing but English and close the doors to immigration.

    And to commenter #2, the 3.99% was NOT just the store – she meant the whole town.

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