Immigration & the Salad Bowl

Posted on Wednesday, July 6th, 2016


“Immigrants and Refugees: Fear of the ‘Other’ Runs Deep.” I wrote a letter to the Thurston County Democrats, published in the July 2016 issue (not yet available online) of “The Democrat,” in response to this well-meaning and progressive essay about immigration (p. 7) in the February 2016 newsletter. This essay ended with these words, which I found troubling: “It’s not for nothing that the United States is called the Great Melting Pot. Let’s keep it that way.”

Language is important. My experience with Garden Raised Bounty, a nonprofit in Olympia, WA, and our ongoing work with VISIONS Inc. has taught me (among many things!) that “melting pot” is no longer a helpful metaphor.  I shared my view in my letter:

“I appreciated all the articles in the latest issue. In particular, Mr. Mansker’s essay about immigration caused me to think about a long accepted, rarely questioned, metaphor for our nation’s collective relationship with immigrants. The metaphor in question – America as Melting Pot – is, I believe, outdated and should be set aside. In a “melting pot,” differences and diversity are undervalued as people feel pressure to assimilate and become like others in their community. Differences are rejected in support of a belief in the superiority of the dominant culture. In a real example, “assimilation”can contribute to an immigrant community’s collective forgetting of how their culture helps them stay healthy, as they are introduced to the “health” care system in their new home. I invite us to think about a different metaphor – a salad bowl, or, pluralism – under which there is acceptance, appreciation, utilization, and celebration of both similarities and differences. Given the complex circumstances of our current situation, I believe (and systems theory would suggest) that we should seek to increase diversity of thought and perspective rather than homogenize. Perhaps this view could be the subject of another article in an upcoming issue. It would be terrific if TCD could be instrumental in helping connect more of our system (community) to itself.”

Of course, I’m happy to continue this conversation about immigration and the salad bowl with my readers or others in the community. How do you see it? This topic will likely show up in the First Wednesday Conversation soon, too.