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First they came for the communists,
but I was not a communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists
and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they
came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they
came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemoeller.
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|America: Melting Pot or ATM? - Thursday, June 21, 2007
America: Melting Pot or ATM?
David C. Stolinsky, MD
America used to be seen as a “melting pot.” Immigrants came to settle, establish a family and become citizens. Many immigrants still come for these reasons, but now many others come only to make money to send – or take – back home. Wherever “home” is, it isn’t here. They see America as a giant automated-teller machine. But so do many native-born Americans.
The current controversy over the immigration bill raises an important question: What do we want our immigration policy to accomplish? This leads to a more basic question: What kind of nation do we want? How we see ourselves affects how others see us.
“Melting pot” is now politically incorrect, but it had the advantage of indicating that immigrants were expected to integrate themselves into American culture. Public schools carried out this role – this duty – by means of classes in American history and civics.
Our past leaders and history often were presented in glowing terms. Sometimes negative aspects were glossed over. As kids matured, there was time to study more deeply and see the other side. All this provided young people with positive role models.
But now, the Boy Scouts and ROTC are being kicked out of schools. Current classes and books on American history often present negative images. If we fail to provide positive role models, kids may find negative ones.
It is no coincidence that the two future murderers at Columbine High School gave the Nazi salute and observed Hitler’s birthday. School kids no longer observe Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays. They no longer memorize the National Anthem, the Gettysburg Address or the Preamble to the Constitution. Kids hear their nation and its past leaders described in negative terms.
For role models, some kids now choose rappers or the local gang leader. We depict an American identity as ugly, then we are shocked – shocked! – when kids seek an identity in gang colors.
Kids no longer hear patriotic music at school or on the radio on national holidays. They can’t identify Grant, other than the man on a fifty-dollar bill. They never heard of Alvin York or Audie Murphy. They don’t know how much their freedom cost, or who paid the price for it. So they have no idea that they may be called on to pay the price themselves.
We have not just stopped Americanizing our kids − we are trying to de-Americanize them. So we have no right to complain if some immigrants don’t raise their children as Americans. Neither do we. Who will defend us from foreign or domestic tyrants? That takes citizens of a free nation, not mere users of an ATM.
Children who are firmly attached to their families are more likely to form lasting attachments to others, and to be healthier emotionally as adults. I believe the same is true for those who are firmly grounded in their national and religious traditions. Trees that grow deep roots are better able to withstand storms. And storms are inevitable.
In the early 20th century, the “melting pot” received a great influx of immigrants. They were not forced to abandon their old cultures, but rather pushed to adapt to their new one. Still, “melting pot” has negative connotations. Bits of metal thrown into a cauldron lose their individuality, and their contribution to the final alloy is invisible. It may be just as well that the term is no longer used. But instead, we now aim for a “diversity salad.”
The idea is that bits of lettuce, celery and carrot retain all their individual flavors and colors, yet are combined into an appetizing dish. The notion is attractive but simplistic. It implies that all you have to do is throw ingredients of any description into a bowl. There is no requirement that the ingredients be compatible, that they be in any proportion, or that they be healthful. Indeed, the salad need not even be tossed, that is, thoroughly mixed. You merely dump the ingredients into a bowl and forget them.
There is no recipe for “diversity salad” other than it be “diverse.” For advocates of diversity for its own sake, this is an advantage. For those who object to recipes on principle, this is admirable. But for those of us who want their meal to be nourishing, “diverse” is too vague a term.
We would not order a dish that the menu described only as “diverse,” for fear it might be repulsive or even poisonous. Why do we trust the future of our nation, in which our children will live, to those who promise nothing more specific than “diversity”?
“Diversity” of what? Diversity of ethnic or racial makeup? Fine. Diversity of religious beliefs? Good, so long as they are compatible with liberty. But diversity of political and ethical systems? The term “diverse” could describe a mob believing in political extremes of Right and Left, and in ethical systems ranging from religious fanaticism to radical environmentalism. But they would be only a strife-torn mob, not a nation. If “diversity” is what you want, visit the Middle East – you’ll get a large serving, but it is likely to cause severe indigestion.
Rather than a salad, a better analogy for America is “salad dressing.” Here you combine dissimilar elements, vinegar and oil, in proper proportions, and then shake to produce a tasty and healthful food. But if you get lazy and let the dressing sit, the elements separate, and you are treated to a mouthful of sour vinegar alternating with one of greasy oil. Constant effort is required to keep the mixture together. Nations and cultures are like that.
I believe the best analogy for America is a “stew pot.” Here you add bits of meat, potato and vegetables with no rigid recipe, but with a sense of proportion. As the stew is heated, the flavors mingle. Each element retains some of its original characteristics, but it also takes on the flavors of the other elements. The result is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. And as the “stew pot” simmers on the stove, you add new ingredients – for example, beans and rice, or Asian noodles. The essential nature of the stew remains, but the flavors change in a subtle way to reflect newly arriving guests.
You must keep the pot warm, yet not let it boil over. You must add new ingredients, and – most important – keep stirring to blend the new ingredients with the old. Effort and attention are required. The stew does not prepare itself.
But the ingredients must be added slowly, in reasonable amounts, while stirring. Dumping in large amounts of unknown new ingredients, and not bothering to stir, is sure to create an unpalatable mess. Isn’t that exactly what we are doing now?
“Diversity salad” has no assurance of healthfulness, but it requires little effort, so it appeals to those who are too lazy to cook. On the other hand, a national “stew pot” can keep us all well nourished. But we have to keep stirring. We have to care enough to work at it.
That’s the key question: Do we care enough? Whatever immigration policy we adopt, it will be aimed at producing some result. What kind of nation do we want? Do we want a nation at all? Or will we be satisfied to sit idly while we are globalized, multiculturalized, multilingualized, homogenized, de-Americanized, and in the end dehumanized?
Do we want to continue to be citizens of a great and good nation? This provides a homeland, a language, liberty, ideals and role models. But it also carries heavy responsibilities, including loyalty in times of trouble and, if need be, military service.
Or will we be satisfied to be users of a giant ATM? This carries no responsibilities. But all it provides is cash – until the machine breaks down.
All of us, immigrants and native-born alike, have two choices: We can be citizens, with all that this implies, or we can merely be users. The future of our nation depends on our choice.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.