A few months ago, I read a Washington Post article from 1998 on “The Myth of the Melting Pot.” The author of part one, “One Nation, Indivisible?” William Booth, wrote:
…a Jew from England named Israel Zangwill penned a play whose story line has long been forgotten, but whose central theme has not. His production was entitled "The Melting Pot" and its message still holds a tremendous power on the national imagination – the promise that all immigrants can be transformed into Americans, a new alloy forged in a crucible of democracy, freedom and civic responsibility.
Is it possible? Can we, the legal citizens of the United States of America embrace being Americans? Can we stop identifying ourselves by the countries and loyalties of our ancestors? I want for us all to say, proudly, “I am an American! Period.”
In William Booth’s six part article, one of the things he wrote really disturbed me. He said:
Many immigrant parents say that while they want their children to advance economically in their new country, they do not want them to become "too American."
Am I the only person who sees a problem with this?
Booth went on to write:
One study of the children of immigrants, conducted six years ago among young Haitians, Cubans, West Indians, Mexican and Vietnamese in South Florida and Southern California, suggests the parents are not alone in their concerns.
Asked by researchers Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbauthow how they identified themselves, most chose categories of hyphenated Americans. Few choose ‘American’ as their identity.
Then there was this – asked if they believe the United States in the best country in the world, most of the youngsters answered: no.
William Branigan, who wrote part three, “Immigrants Shunning Idea of Assimilation,” in the “The Myth of the Melting Pot” series interviewed Maria Jacinto, who lives in Omaha with her husband and their five children. She speaks only Spanish and says, "When my skin turns white and my hair turns blonde, then I'll be an American."
Mrs. Jacinto, hair and skin color don’t make an American. Why did you become a citizen if you don’t want to be American? Are you simply entitled to live here and benefit from what other Americans have fought and died for all these years?
I’ve been very curious but not had the opportunity to ask: How do legal immigrants feel about illegal immigrants? Is it wonderful to welcome people who enjoy the same ancestry, food and music as their forefathers? Or are they disconcerted? Do they worry that the influx of illegal immigrants causes people to look at them with the suspicion that they, too, are illegal? Are illegal immigrants encouraged to seek legal citizenship?
I don’t have the answer to the question, “What is an American?” I don’t think there is an easy answer; however, I think the answer starts with citizenship. If you’re going to apply for and are granted citizenship, then you are an American. If you’re not interested in becoming an American or in being here legally (married to an American or in possession of a green card or as a visitor), please allow me to show you the door.
Our national motto is still E Pluribus Unum meaning, “From Many, One.”
This is the United States of America. Let’s unite in our pride in being American. We may not like everything about this country. There may be political strife and discord. We may want a revolution to start now, muthaf*****! (love you, Mags) The thing is, we’re in a country where we can fix it. We can talk about it. We can, if we like, vote.
How about it? Shall we all jump into Zangwill’s melting pot and become “a new alloy forged in a crucible of democracy, freedom and civic responsibility?”