Friday, August 15, 2008

Melting Pot

Since its founding, if not before, America has been hailed as a melting pot. In few places does this apply now as much as NYC.

I'm not sure I buy it.

I think it's a great concept, and obviously one can't deny that there are major concentrations of different cultures in the five boroughs. But for the metaphor of a melting pot to apply, those cultures would have to mingle and integrate in such a way that a new culture emerges. This is where the process breaks down.

We've got Chinese immigrants in Chinatown, African-Americans in Harlem and Bed-Stuy, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in Washington Heights and Inwood, and Hasidic Jews in Borough Park. Oh, and stupid white kids in Williamsburg. Everyone speaking their language of origin, eating the food that fed them in the womb, listening to the music they're supposed to listen to. I don't see a lot of fusion of these groups (tostones sashimi? klezmer mariachi funk?) or any new languages emerging.

Please understand this isn't coming from some weird right-wing xenophobia. I have no problem with all these different groups being here, and I think it's absolutely ridiculous to try to legally assign an official language to everyone here. Everybody's going to figure it out. If we have to speak Pig Latin to communicate, then we'll all learn Pig Latin. We'll be fine. So what's my point? Excellent question. I guess I'm trying to understand human nature, as always, and also appreciating some irony which I will explain in a bit.

I think it all shows that we love familiarity and tend to stick to our own (unless our parents tell us to). If anything I think being in a situation like this makes us identify even more strongly with where we came from. I'm from the South, and damned if I don't like a country accent and some good biscuits from time to time. I absolutely hated country music growing up, and while I certainly can't say I'm a wholesale fan now, after I moved here I started to appreciate it more and even have a few albums.

And now, the irony. Follow my logic, if you will. America is very often identified as a melting pot. This is often done in a benevolent light. Who most vocally sings the praises of this country? Conservatives. Who most vocally would love for non-white, non-English-speaking people to no longer live here? Conservatives. For a more succinct explanation, just imagine Ann Coulter living in a fifth-floor walkup in Washington Heights.

You're welcome.

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