I've often heard New York City described as being very multi ethnic and a melting pot of different cultures. People like the term melting pot to describe how multicultural it is here. It's comforting. Even at church, we pride ourselves on being so diverse and being a melting pot of cultures. However, is being a melting pot really celebrating diversity?
To be honest, I absolutely detest that word. When I think of melting pot, I think of soup. I love soup - don't get me wrong. It's easy to make, you put all the different ingredients in, boil it down until all the flavors have been taken out to make a broth. When you taste it, it encompasses all the different flavors altogether. You might get the odd chunks or meat, or vegetable which add texture, but for the most part, those flavors don't over power or dominate - they take on the taste of the broth that has come about from combining all these ingredients.
I've felt as if the flavors of my roots have been boiled down growing up as a third culture kid (someone who was raised in a culture that was not their parents' culture). My parents are of two different races and I grew up in Hong Kong, a British colony at the time, and went to an International School where I was a minority. For me to fit in, I had to assimilate. I had to learn the common language, adapt to the common culture and learn the common traditions.
Being able to assimilate in Hong Kong made it easier for me to learn to assimilate in Australia when I went to college there. I naturally started to sound more Australian, which made it easier for me to find work. I developed a taste for beer - something I don't drink much of in Asia but it seemed everyone consumed in Australia. I quickly made Australian friends because I could adapt to their culture.
Moving to the US, I assumed the same. I attempted to immerse myself in American culture. In my attempt to assimilate, I found that somewhere along the way, I had lost myself. I could no longer identify with my Father's Indian side or my Mother's Filipino side. I could barely speak Cantonese or Tagalog. I had boiled down and taken on the flavor of something else.
The real fear came after having children and realising that I have nothing of my heritage to pass on to them apart from looking different. I had spent so long assimilating to the dominant culture that I had lived in and being a part of the melting pot of cultures that was forming, that I had neglected to preserve my own culture.
This is what many minorities have to do in order to survive in America. The woman working in finance has to act and think like a man to be respected by her peers. The Asian kid has to beg his mom to pack him sandwiches to take to school so he isn't made fun of for bringing chicken and rice. We minorities wear our hair differently, dress differently, and speak differently in order to succeed in America.
One of the members of my small group shared her experience of assimilating to white dominant culture and where she stood at Forefront saying, "I assimilate from Monday through Saturday, I shouldn't have to do it at church." Then it hit me. Are we at church calling our members to assimilate too? In our promotion of diversity are we becoming a melting pot where minorities are watering down their flavor and taking up the dominant flavor in the mix?
I should hope not! That's not how I perceived diversity to be. Wouldn't a move towards INTEGRATION instead of assimilation be better at celebrating diversity? Instead of being a melting pot, or soup, why not strive for a salad bowl; where all the ingredients maintain their flavor and are mixed in with other ingredients that all compliment each other to make a wonderfully tasty and healthy dish.
My husband and I have decided to live this out and celebrate the diversity of the salad in our neighborhood. We have committed to engaging in real conversation with our West Indian neighbors, not just a cordial greeting, but really getting to know them and what their stories are. At our latest block party, I set up a table and offered free face painting for all the kids in the neighborhood. I must have painted 100 faces that day and it was exhausting, but I really got to know the kids that have lived on our street longer than we have. In our three years of living on that block, we had never attended a block party, and only spoke to our immediate neighbors. Painting these kids faces bridged a gap between my family and the other families in the neighborhood. It isn’t always comfortable to engage with people I have little in common with but they really appreciated that I reached out and I quickly made friends.
What does it mean for you to be a part of this salad? It means, setting aside a need to worship in a style that feeds you in order for your neighbor to find familiarity in their style of worship so that they too can be fed. It means, asking that person whom you see Sunday after Sunday but have never spoken to what their story is and what their interests are. It means, hanging out with kids when you are not a kids person. It means engaging people who are different and celebrating their differences, creating an environment where they feel safe and accepted as themselves.