The concept of America being the great “melting pot” has been drilled into all of our heads from the second we first opened our eyes in the delivery room. Elementary school textbooks, with flags, ships, and wagons on the covers, overwhelm us with the idea of diversity and heritage. They tell us how men and women of all shapes, sizes, and colors came together to build this nation and guide its brilliance. Because we all know America is, in fact, a “nation of immigrants.” But, then again, so is just about every nation, right? The depth of that concept depends on just how much you want to inconvenience yourself with pesky genealogy and history.
In a class during my junior year of high school, a group of us were discussing heritage and what nations our families come from. One said that her father was Mexican and her mother was Caucasian. Another said he was 100 percent Chinese. I told them that I am mainly Scotch-Irish, with a mix of other European influence. A friend of mine, who was only slightly paying attention to our conversation, was asked, “What are you?” “I’m American,” he stated firmly. When his answer didn’t satisfy the inquiring individual, she reworded her question. “No. I mean, where are your parents from?” Mockingly, he responded with the name of the local cities in which they were born.
He proceeded to tell the perplexed group that he didn’t really care where his family was from. All that mattered was the fact that he is American. He was not born in a foreign country, nor were his parents. He does not share the cultural practices of his great great great grandparents somewhere in Europe. He doesn’t live in their land or even speak their language. What he knows of his distant heritage is irrelevant in contrast to his being an American.
I walked away from that conversation with a new level of respect for my friend. I was surprised by his statement, but astounded by his pride in America. He is one of the few people I know who are more enamored with their American citizenship than their vague ties to distant cultures. It is a remarkably impressive attribute, but not often glorified in our society. Not surprisingly, this friend of mine chose to serve the country he loves in the most dedicated of ways. He is currently a United States Marine, and somebody who has my utmost respect.
With the novelty and unfamiliar curiosity that comes along with foreign culture, we tend to forget that we have a culture of our own. People come from all over the world to observe it and experience all that is America. Our way of life is unique, in its own way, and should be credited for its originality and greatness.
In the constant celebration of differences, we often forget the very ideas that inspired the greatness of America, unity and a shared vision. Early immigrants embraced their origins, but recognized that, in order to build a strong and successful nation, they had to develop their own shared way of life. When the ingredients are placed in the melting pot, no one expects them to sit idle, separated from one another. They expect them to mix and blend until a brand new recipe is created. And in the end, the final dish is all that matters.
Sure, we come from different places and believe different things. And it is okay, even beneficial, to highlight these unique aspects. But, we must do so in conjunction with a shared pride in our primary allegiance, the United States of America. We should find satisfaction in knowing that our culture is the culmination of many great influences, all coming together to form one final product.