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The melting pot is vegetable soup

Schoolhouse Rock cartoons had already stopped gracing the Saturday morning airwaves when I was a kid, but I still managed to see several of the catchy little cartoon shorts growing up. I remember we had at least two compilations on VHS tape and my elementary teachers showed many in class as a fun way to learn important basic concepts.

It’s been years since I watched any of them, but some of the songs or key phrases still remain stuck in my head. Like how one cartoon described America with the popular “melting pot” phrase. That short cartoon celebrated the history of immigration to make the United States the country it is today. It’s a positive tune, explaining how “America was the land of hope” and how “it doesn’t matter what your skin, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or your religion, you jump right in.”

This is, of course, a very simplistic look at the history of America since its target audience is young children after all. It’s a fun way to start learning about our country. But while it’s true that many early European settlers first came to America to escape things like religious persecution and to live life differently than in their original countries, the history of the United States isn’t all sunshine and roses. Many Native American cultures were destroyed when the colonists moved in, and the newcomers often brought slaves with them who had been ripped away from their homes across the ocean.

That’s all a part of our history too, and it’s important to know the terrible, brutal struggles many faced throughout the centuries.

As time moves forward, however, our diverse society has tried to learn how to live better together. Our lives are largely peaceful day to day. But we’re nowhere near perfect. We’ve stumbled many times along the way. Discrimination still happens in plenty of ways, some violently and some silently. And that discrimination often falls on the minorities in our country, the ones who are considered to be “different” from the others.

Just like the Schoolhouse Rock song says, our country is made of many kinds of people. It may have started out centuries ago as mostly white Europeans settling down here, but today we have American citizens with all kinds of different cultural and religious backgrounds and immigrants from all parts of the world. We are not all the same color. We don’t all speak the same language. We don’t all go to the same place of worship.

In that sense, we are essentially a big “melting pot” of so many different ingredients coming together in one place.

But I think people also misunderstand the “melting” part of the metaphor. Some people expect melting to mean that everyone becomes the same as everyone else. The same language, the same customs, the same clothes, the same habits, the same traditions, the same values, the same everything. The differences should be smoothed out and stomped out.

How bland does that sound though?

That’s not what the United States should be. That’s never what it was meant to be. Our country itself is a patchwork collection of all kinds of different states, each unique in its own way. Why should the people living in them be any less diverse?

Perhaps a better metaphor is to think of America as vegetable soup.

It’s a simple enough recipe, right? Grab all the ingredients. You’ll need vegetables, of course, like corn, onions, potatoes, butter beans, tomatoes, and whatever else you like to throw in. You’ll need to add some seasoning to the pot. You can even add a meat like beef or chicken if you want.

Let it cook for a while. The flavors of each individual ingredient all melt together to create the unique flavor of the soup. But if you scoop out a spoonful, you’ll still see the vegetables and everything else floating around in there. They don’t all disappear when they get added to the soup.

There are parts of the “vegetable soup” of America which would like to toss out the ingredients they don’t like or don’t understand. This has been a problem for a long time and it continues even today. But all the ingredients are equally important to make sure the soup tastes as delicious as it can be.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or at 252-332-7206.