A Melting Pot vs. A Stew….

StewWhen I was a kid I often heard that the USA was the great American melting pot. That implied that when people came to this country they gave up all their traditions and heritage and merged seamlessly into the American ethic. I was a pretty naive farm boy in my youth so it was years before I realized that the melting pot was not as homogeneous as I thought.

Those who grew up in large metropolitan areas very much realize that American is more of a stew than a melting pot. Take any major city and you will find “Little Italy”, “Chinatown”, and many other ethnic neighborhoods. I even recently learned that there is a “Little Ukraine” in NYC. Being deaf I have even come to understand that there are deaf enclaves in many cities where Deaf culture people congregate. They have their own groceries, and other type stores who all know ASL.

Originally these communities started as a way to hang out with people who spoke our language and understood the world as we do. They were ways to hold on to old world customs in the strange new world of the United States.  But since mass immigration is now several generations ago they have now morphed into centers to celebrate their uniqueness and there is nothing wrong with that.

I think that the U.S. has always been a stew rather than a melting pot. A stew is made up of many different components each contributing to the unique overall taste. If there was nothing but potatoes in a stew it would not be anything close to what it is.  By the same account if we just threw all the vegetables into a pot of cold water they would never come to be a stew but instead just a pot of veggies.  It takes time on the stove, or crockpot, for the parts to come together to be a stew.

On this blog I call the American Stew by the name of diversity. We are made up of many different parts with many different views. Our diversity is what makes us the great nation that we are. When we fail to recognize that fact we are damaging ourselves.  Slavery damaged us for hundreds of years as has bigotry among some of our population. Today the anti-diversity campaigns such as Left/Right, conservative/progressive, white/color, are still threatening the stew.

We have to all understand that being made up of a population of differences is what makes us unique in this world. It is what gives us our strength. For that reason we should all take up arms when bigotry and prejudices are used to attack any of us. We are a stew, not a melting pot.

2 thoughts on “A Melting Pot vs. A Stew….

  1. I agree with you, R.J. I grow so impatient when people insist that immigrants should immediately learn English and always conduct their affairs in English. Of course, they should make efforts to do so, but have all those who are so indignant tried to develop fluency in another language? If so, they’d be less likely to believe that it’s a lack of patriotism or unwillingness that prevents immigrants from immediately learning English. I studied Spanish from seventh grade straight through to high school graduation and could read novels or take exams in Spanish. When I landed in Spain for a summer program at a Spanish university, however, the story was different. In my first weeks at the university’s summer program, I often couldn’t understand our professor when she told us what our homework assignment would be, much less when she discussed the nuances of the subjunctive mood. When I would stop people on the street to ask for directions during that summer, speaking in my best Spanish, they would often smile wearily and say, “Let’s speak in English.” I did eventually develop better fluency in the language. Lest it sound as if I’m a dunce, I majored in physics my first three years in college and made straight A’s in all classes, including higher level mathematics. I was in honors English classes and was a driven student. I also studied German in college, but since I haven’t used that language since graduation, I have lost all but a smattering of German words.

    I had further experiences learning a new language when I was an older adult. Because I have a deaf granddaughter, I studied ASL a few years ago, but it is a hard and sometimes counterintuitive language, made especially hard because I was dealing with the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis on the hands. When my granddaughter stopped signing after she got her cochlear implants, I quickly lost fluency in ASL.

    It is not easy, even for a dedicated and bright person, to become fluent in another language or to maintain that fluency in a language that is not their native language. Developing enough fluency to study, conduct business transactions, and make reservations is even harder. Some people just aren’t going to be able to do it, especially not quickly. That says nothing about their dedication to this country or their interest in rearing children who contribute to our country.


    1. Nice story Linda. Thanks for sharing it. This reminds me of an old joke

      Question: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
      Answer: Bilingual

      Question: What do you call someone who only speaks one language?
      Answer: American

      If all of us had to learn a second language I think we would better understand what immigrants face when coming here. But that is only part of the story. I also believe that the different views about things adds to our country. Diversity is a good thing.


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