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The Melting Pot

Lamonte - August 20, 2007

During the past 10 days I visited family and friends in my home town in Southern Idaho.  The trip also included a family reunion with my wife’s family at a campground in Island Park, Idaho, just west of Yellowstone Park.  We had a wonderful time at the reunion and we focused on family history.  Like my family, my wife’s family is made up of mostly Welsh immigrants who joined the church in Europe and then immigrated to the Western U.S. along with other church members.  But unlike my family that is exclusively Welsh, my wife’s great grandmother was German.  I enjoyed hearing the stories of those brave families that settled the west.

During my visit I heard about the controversy created when Idaho’s Congressman Bill Sali complained publicly that a Hindu prayer was offered in the House of Representatives.  His comments essentially said that America has always been a Christian nation and that God has protected America from its enemies because we have been a Christian nation and that if we encourage and promote diversity in our nation, God will lift that hand of protection.  I’ll get back to that comment in a moment.

Last night I was watching “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and I was amused when Ian Miller, the boyfriend/fiancé of the Toula Portokalos tries to speak Greek to his future father-in-law, Gus, and Gus responds with disgust in Greek saying something like “my people were creating language when your people were still hanging in trees.”  I’m sure I’ve got the quote wrong but you get the general premise he was trying to make.  The movie portrays a Greek culture full of life and vigor while Ian Miller’s family culture, most likely English, is reserved and stale.  My wife and I commented that the difference between these two families, while exaggerated and animated, is not unlike the difference between her family and mine.  When my parents have visited us they have basically said, “We came to see you and we don’t want to see any of the local sites.” (We live in suburban Washington DC)  But when my in-laws come I have to take extra time off to rest after they leave because they want to do everything.

All of these rambling thoughts have me wondering.  How will the diversity of the United States serve us in the future?  Will the “melting pot” be a strong force after the United States has fallen from grace or will our lack of a common culture be a weakness?   OK – I suggested a dreadful thought – the United States may someday cease to be a world power, but the Greeks and the Romans were once great powers as well and today they are just average.  By that I mean they do not dominate the world as they once did.  I guess I’ve been dismayed by the events of the past six years and have actually given thought to the possibility that our fate might be the same as those once great societies (maybe that was the wrong term to use.)

For the record, I am disgusted by the remarks of Congressman Sali.  I think one of the greatest aspects about life in America is the ability and opportunity to experience many cultures.  I am proud of my Welsh heritage but I celebrate the cultures of all people and hope to be able to experience many more than I already have.  While I consider myself a “Christian” I reject the idea that we are a “Christian nation” with all of the bigotry and hatred that accompanies such a title.  And let’s face it, there are many “Christians” who claim I am not a legitimate Christian because I am a Mormon.  If we cannot stand side by side with people of all cultures AND religions then I believe we have lost the principles upon which our nation was founded.  And so I am embarrassed that Congressman Sali, or anyone of his ilk, is representing my home state.

But then again I wonder what would happen if the United States became just another country in the world instead of the superpower we are today.  Would our diverse culture sustain us the same way that the cultures of Greece or Rome or any other country in the world has sustained them long after they have fallen from power?  If at a future date, an American citizen decides to immigrate to the next “melting pot” – say Australia – would our “American culture” be as strong of an anchor as the Greek culture was for Gus Portokalos?  What are your thoughts about our culture?  Do you hold on to your ancestral background or do you just consider yourself an American like a friend of mine at church.

My apologies to anyone who might be reading this from another country, but I would welcome your comments as well.  


  1. I subscribe to a cynical sort of patriotism. I find a lot more clarity from The Daily Show than I do from the nightly news. That said, I appreciate and love what is found in this country. I recognize the sacrifices my ancestors made. I recognize why they came to this country. And in spite of all the work we still have to do, I would bet that we are the most diverse and tolerant nation YET. And that’s the problem with Sali’s comments. Its because we are a melting pot that we have survived this long – and one of the best reasons to survive for many years to come.

    I was recently listening to a report about corruption in the government. At the moment I began to despair at the hypocrisy, I rejoiced that we have the free press to expose it. That, to me, is the essence of America.

    Comment by cj douglass — August 20, 2007 @ 7:18 am

  2. I can see two sides to the issue of the “melting pot”.

    For one, it is good to bring in a diverse number of cultures and languages. (I don’t believe I ever tasted heaven until I had Thai food!) Wasn’t this country made to give hope to the oppressed (not to ignore our humiliating history of slavery) and freedom to the practice of any religion? I think that’s what makes us so great –we have freedoms here that other people can only dream about. Capitalism may be ridiculed by others, but unfortunately for them, it works. Why else would there be millions of people clamoring to find residency here, whether legal or not?

    But for the second side –there sometimes can be an ignorant thought that one can come to this country and embrace its opportunities, but ignore the “American” culture. Let’s see if I can put it another way –I have a friend of Bosnian descent that lives in Sydney. We were recently talking about how frustrated he gets with the different Ethnic communities in Australia. He said that several people go to Australia to make something of themselves, or to start anew, or, as in his family’s instance, to escape genocide and oppression. However, generally, these “refugees” can’t let go of what happened in their country (understandably). So children are raised with prejudices against certain ethnicities (parental induced), even though some of those countries are no longer at war. Something that happened between two countries in the 50′s are still contributing to the prejudices felt by the children of today, because their parents cannot let go of their own countries and pursue a peaceful life in a country without those prejudices. Instead of forgiveness and happiness for a bright future, they are stuck in a vice of hatred that they pass onto their children.

    I can see a little bit of that happening here. Luckily, the United States, as an entire nation, condemns prejudicial behavior, but it is still seen in some communities. What bothers me the most, though, is when immigrants come and refuse to assimilate into our “culture” (i.e. refusing to learn English), but rather gathering in their own communities. Of course, in the case with illegal immigrants, they are usually avoiding the public eye (which makes sense).

    To me, that’s scary. When the country starts to divide itself according to ethnicity, it can’t be really good (see what happened in France this last year?). I think learning about each culture and embracing our differences is what has made our country amazing and wonderful. To be honest, that’s one reason I’m glad my family moved to California from Utah, if only for the opportunity to teach my children how amazingly diverse this country (and the world) is, and how good it is to experience each culture.

    Anyway, sorry for the length. I know I don’t make much sense, but that’s how I see it at the moment.

    Comment by Cheryl — August 20, 2007 @ 10:06 am

  3. CJ and Cheryl – Thanks for your comments. I’m not sure if my post was confusing or if others just didn’t find it interesting.

    Cheryl – don’t apologize for the length. I always appreciate reading other’s thought process. I also believe that moving away from Utah was a positive influence for my family. We moved to Northern Virginia 19 years ago and I think my sons have benefited from that move. I don’t mean to disparage Utah in any way. I was just visiting there this past weekend and was reminded what a nice place it is. But I beleive the citizens can sometimes get trapped into not looking beyond their borders for wisdom and insight.

    CJ – I agree that our diversity is one of the strengths of our country. But I guess the premise of my post was to question whether that diversity would be a stronger force if things changed in relation to our standing in the world, or if having a more homogenous culture, like Gus Portokalos’ Greek culture, would serve us better.

    I hope that diversity is the best course because I know that it enriches our lives.

    Comment by Lamonte — August 21, 2007 @ 5:42 am

  4. Do you hold on to your ancestral background or do you just consider yourself an American like a friend of mine at church.

    I guess I consider my ancestral background to be Mormon. That supercedes any other association in my conception of my identity. I consider foreign Mormons, whether they have Mormon ancestry or not, to be “my people” more than Americans in general or people of my ancestral homeland (Britain). If I live somewhere else, it will first and foremonst be my Mormonness that I take with me. Of course, a lot of my ideals and values are influenced by being American, like my fondness for capitalism and liberal democracy. But I don’t see those as core aspects of my identity.

    I also often wonder what it will be like when America is just another country. It seems inevitable that that will happen, though I don’t know how or when. Hegemony has never been immortal.

    I think there is a lot of anxiety about maintaining an American identity undergirding the concern about immigration. Pat Buchanan types play up fears that America’s core identity will be fundamentally, negatively changed by being overrun by Mexicans. That thought doesn’t actually bother me much. I do think America will be/would be changed by having a large influx of Mexicans, but I don’t see a reason to believe that the change will be negative.

    Comment by Tom — August 21, 2007 @ 8:26 am

  5. Will the “melting pot” be a strong force after the United States has fallen from grace or will our lack of a common culture be a weakness?

    This brings to mind the huge rift between different groups in Iraq. They seem to consider themselves Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds more than Iraqis and their tribalism manifests itself in brutal violence amongst themselves. That situation is exacerbated by poverty and upheaval. So I guess another way to get at the issue you’re raising is to ask if America one day becomes impoverished and experiences that kind of upheaval, would we have a similar problem? Would we band into tribes and fight or would we have enough of a common identity as Americans to consider ourselves one tribe? I don’t know. I think integration and assimilation of minority groups would help foster a common identity. Right now, we segregate ourselves by race, ethnicity, and economic status enough that I could see tribal rifts forming if there were a fight for resources.

    Comment by Tom — August 21, 2007 @ 8:51 am

  6. Tom – It’s an interesting point you raise. My father (and mother) lived through the great depression as adolescents and teenagers and while my father would never want to return to those days he actually speaks findly of those times because everyone in his community pulled together to make life more bearable. It is worth noting that this was a small Mormon farming community made up of mostly white Angle Saxons but they actually had more of a community spirit then than they do now – because of that crisis. I don’t really know how the rest of the country, with more diversity of race and religion, handled that situation.

    Comment by Lamonte — August 21, 2007 @ 9:17 am

  7. Interesting post, Lamonte. Consider Argentina. Even more than the United States, it is a nation formed out of diverse immigrant communities; as a missionary there I met immigrants or children of immigrants from Spain, Italy, Wales, Scotland, France, Russia, Belgium, Germany, Yugoslavia, and Vietnam. With all that, there is a distinct Argentine identity and culture.

    I think, or maybe just hope, that a United States culture is inevitable. As is the case for many, my ancestry includes 19th Century immigrants from several countries, as well as other branches that have been nowhere but America for three centuries or so. If there is no common American identity, then I really have no national identity. That’s possible for me alone, but my case is a common one for those in the United States.

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 21, 2007 @ 11:09 am

  8. John – That’s very interesting about Argentina. I sat next to a college professor on a flight from San Francisco to Washington DC last year and he told me about the “colony” of Welsh immigrants that live in central Argentina. He said they maintain the old Welsh language, which I thought was facinating since not even the folks who live in Wales do that. He was of Italian lineage himself and we have a close friend who is an Italian from Argentina. My recollection is that while they develop a strong Agrentine identity, they still maintain at least some of the culture of their native land. For instance the professor told me that he speaks with a slight accent which is different than a Spanish Argentine. Thanks for writing, John.

    Comment by lamonte — August 21, 2007 @ 7:35 pm

  9. My ancestors came to America so early, I have no identity other than American. (A few of my direct lines were French Huguenots, but I know nothing about French culture of that time.)

    I also grew up in a state without much long-term history (WA), so I didn’t have the baggage (culture, whatever you want to call it) you have growing up in the South or Northeast, or even Utah.

    Not to say WA isn’t diverse–it is, and much more so now than it was when I was growing up (which is awesome). It’s just not steeped in any deep history, really.

    Comment by Susan M — August 22, 2007 @ 11:07 am

  10. Of course there is an American culture. It’s just harder to see nowadays because 1) it’s been proliferated throughout the world because of our hegemony and 2) it is diminishing as more people move here without embracing it. That’s my beef with many immigrants nowadays. I think it is most certianly important to hold to your ancestral culture whether you be British, German, Mexican or Korean (that’s a whole other topic about the necessity of learning history) but at the same time you must learn to embrace the culture you are becoming a part of.

    I found it peculiar and very sad that the mass immigration demonstrations a couple years ago had mostly Mexican flags waving rather than American ones. If these people want so badly to become members of this nation, shouldn’t they be eager to show it?

    And yeah, America’s hegemony will only last so long. Most people forget we’ve only been on top since WWII in the first place.

    Comment by Bret — August 22, 2007 @ 11:09 am

  11. I guess I have to say I understand where Sali is coming from. He is Mormon and represents a mormon majority in his state. The Book of Mormon certainly tells us that we live in a promised land and that we must worship God to prosper, if we don’t we’ll end up with the same fate as the Lamanites.

    The Hindu God is not our God. Islam’s God is not our God. The U.S. WAS founded on Christian principles, on the 10 commandments and Judo-Christian principles. The 10 commandments, nor anything like them is not found in the Koran nor as far as I know in the Hindu teachings.

    I think the diversity is great. I think these immigrants have a right to practice their religion as long as it doesn’t violate the laws. I do think it’s important and almost necessary for these people to accept and embrace the principles and culture and language of this country if they want to live here.

    I think Sali said what he felt, and what a lot of those he represtents felt. Right or wrong, first he has the right to say it and second I think there is some truth to.

    Just my bigoted opinion!

    Comment by Don Clifton — August 22, 2007 @ 4:42 pm

  12. Holy crap, that is bigoted! I learned quickly after I got married that just because you feel something (or have a “right” to say something) doesn’t mean it’s okay to say it. It makes you sound like a southern Evangelical!

    Comment by Rusty — August 22, 2007 @ 6:02 pm

  13. Thanks Lamonte great post.

    I have always loved the whole melting pot mentality in the U.S. even before I found out that I was my own melting pot (see:http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2007/04/dna-mormons/). My friends have always been diverse.

    It has been interesting how we are perceived by our fellow Mormons now that we have an adopted Chinese toddler. We are now a “family of color”. One LDS-Chinese friend and fellow ward member remarked one day, “It is so nice to have another Asian in the ward.”

    I was flabbergasted and quite flattered. “Is that what I am now?”

    She said, “You certainly are, haven’t you noticed?”

    I thought about it and she is right.

    Comment by JA Benson — August 22, 2007 @ 6:15 pm

  14. Joanna – I remember your post and I was overwhelmed by it. I have vowed to get mey own DNA tested but just haven’t done it yet. Thanks for reminding me.

    Don – you said, “Islam’s God is not our God.” Of course not the way we interpret God but isn’t the case that Islam’s God IS the God of Abraham. I mean isn’t that where Islam’s God started?

    I didn’t know Sali was a Mormon. I noticed he declined to state his religion on his Congressional profile. Interesting fact about a man so vocal about Christianity.

    Comment by lamonte — August 24, 2007 @ 4:36 pm

  15. And Don – I wasn’t suggesting that Sali be denied the right to make his comments. They just simply disgusted me and made me ashamed to say I was a native of Idaho.

    And despite what you said, I don’t consider you a bigot. I’ve read your other stuff and you seem like a good guy.

    Comment by lamonte — August 24, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

  16. For what is worth Lamonte; my parents took the DNA Test. My Dad showed to be very Polish, Russian, and Laplander. My mother is Northern African, Middle Eastern, and Irish. Both of them are Italian. So the test is not bogus.

    Comment by JA Benson — August 27, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

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