Monday, September 30, 1996

Week of 09/30/1996

Melting Pot? Or Cultural Crucible?
Is conservatism preserving America’s principles? Or perverting them?
- by David Matthews 2

"Give us your poor, your downtrodden, your huddled masses yearning to be free…" Or at least that was the quote imprinted at Ellis Island. And like a siren’s call, people came from all parts of the world. Some came to escape poverty. Others, to escape tyranny. And still others came for opportunity.

America is considered a nation of immigrants. A country populated by all walks of life. And thus was born the concept of a "cultural melting pot;" the belief that all cultures were welcomed into American society and that their addition would further strengthen that society.

But there is a movement within today’s political factions to do away with the concept of a "melting pot." That instead, it was time to bring the country back to it’s "roots."

Their prime target lies in something called "multiculturalism." Conservatives believe that America was always of one culture (which by "coincidence" somehow looks like their culture) and that in the past thirty years that culture has been "perverted" by both the rise in immigrants and the liberal cause. They point to the political turmoil that currently faces Canadians with their French-speaking province of Quebec as examples that having a different culture from the "mainstream" somehow leads to the breakdown of a country. They point to the rise in the number of American citizens who don’t speak English. They point to the rise in "special interest studies courses" in colleges and universities. They point to "revisionists" whom they believe erode American history by pointing out the faults of historical men like Christopher Columbus. And they point to the cost it takes to make government forms in English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and whatever other language would be needed to suit the special interests. They point to it all and declare it to be "bad."

To be honest, there are some things the conservatives are right about on this issue. Do we really need a special study group for every diverse minority that attends a college or university? There is already a means of social division out there for academia- it’s called fraternities and sororities.

From a financial point of view, I can understand the frustration of government agencies that have to print everything up in various languages. Some of my ancestors had to learn English in order to live in America. Same with a lot of immigrants who came here from different countries in the early part of this century. If English was declared the official language of this country back then, we wouldn’t have had to worry about having to spend the money printing up the same forms in different languages.

I myself wouldn’t mind having English become the official language of the United States if not for some of the consequences that such a movement brings. One such consequence was evident in Texas not too long ago when a mother lost custody of her child because she spoke to her in Spanish at home. The judge presiding over the case said that as long as the mother was speaking to her daughter in Spanish instead of English she was condemning that child to a live of poverty. Not only was that an insult to all Spanish-speaking people of the world, but also a direct insult to the mother of that child, whose only sin was trying to teach diversity.

Perhaps that argument best describes the fallacy of the conservatives when they preach out against things like "multiculturalism" and "diversity." They somehow seem to forget that they themselves are descendants of immigrants. That we were at one time guests to this land before we kicked out the Indians and forced them to live in reservations.

Conservatives at times don’t want to face facts that sometimes our ancestors were rude and obnoxious assholes.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Christopher Columbus mistreated the natives when he discovered the "new world." Does it subtract from the fact that he made the journey when everyone else said he was foolish to try? Not one bit. Does the fact that some of our founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves detract from the contributions they provided to this country? Hardly. The truth can at times be painful, but not as painful as concealing the truth.

It seems as though many conservatives don’t see America much as a cultural melting pot as they would a cultural crucible- burning away at everything they consider to be "impure." If this to be the case, it certainly does not reflect the diversity this country was indeed founded upon, but rather the dark past we have tried so desperately to rise above.

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