Salad bowls: a reflection on race
Letter to the Editor | Friday, April 11, 2014
“As I was in South Dining Hall, feasting on corned beef and cabbage, garbed in green and surrounded by an emerald brigade of students and staff, I realized something. Although the U.S. celebration of the feast of St. Patrick is a commemoration of Irish culture, I think it’s only fitting that we also remember the great American immigrant experience in general, of which we are all grateful beneficiaries. Whether it has been war, famine, or just the prospect of a better life, our forefathers (and foremothers) all made the calculated decision to leave their home countries to reach these shores lined with so much promise. We are a nation of immigrants, a rich patchwork of races and cultures, and it makes sense that we eat, drink, and be merry on this particular day. So I tip my hat to all migrant families, workers, and their progeny. Today, we’re all Irish (whether ethnically or “Fighting”), and today we celebrate all those who came before so that we who walk in their footsteps might pursue the American Dream.”
In this Facebook status of 176 words, I attempted to encapsulate the overwhelming sentiment of Notre Dame community pride I felt on St. Patrick’s Day. Today, the campus is no longer celebrating, but is boiling over like a pot of the steamed cabbage, the same cabbage which we had just dined on four weeks ago, but now embroiled in a controversy about a lady in red.
The United States has been described as a melting pot of peoples, a cultural chowder, a populist potage and a brotherly broth. The melting pot is a metaphor describing the Americanization of immigrants, obliging them to lose whatever makes them different for the sake of assimilating with the rest of the country. The national identity, our collective “Americanness,” had to be preserved and so that is why newcomers had to speak English to the detriment of their native tongues and why many had to adopt Westernized dress. This melting-pot mentality is also why my grandmother, who became a U.S. citizen a few years ago was asked whether she wanted to change her name (“Divina Gracia Corpuz Llanes”) to something a bit more homogenized (which she, thanks be to God, refused, replying in her characteristic proud manner that her name reflects her Catholic faith and means “Divine Grace” and “Body of Christ.”)
While I do contend that melting-pot imagery does indeed have its benefits, I prefer the more contemporary idea that the United States is a salad bowl. The salad bowl refers not to a nutritional vegan utopia, but to a society wherein diversity is celebrated and not merely tolerated. Salad bowl symbolism recognizes that ethnic groups will be tossed around, yet never subsumed into a particular one — slicing and dicing stereotypes and garnishing them with the flavorful croutons of coexistence. “Americanness” should not be measured by how similar we all are to each other, but by the diversity that renders our great nation unique. Ours is a common patrimony of frontier folklore and patriotic practices, a national heritage made more complex and beautiful by the rich diversity of its citizens. I certainly agree that we should do our very best to promote the traditions that distinguish the United States, but to do so in a manner which does not actively eradicate our differences or ignores their existence altogether.
As a member of the Diversity Council of Notre Dame, I actively choose to celebrate all forms of diversity. It would be foolish for us to consider “diversity” as applying only to non-whites. While many individuals on campus do hold this belief, this is an attitude that ignores the distinctive differences between Germans and Spaniards, between the French and the Polish, between Russians and Italians. The Diversity Council welcomes all perspectives to our meetings and events, as do the so-called “racially exclusive special interest clubs,” which compose the board. Yes, it is true that with names like “National Society of Black Engineers” or “Latino Student Alliance,” the cultural clubs may appear to dissuade those who do not fit their categories from joining. The cultural clubs should not, however, be reduced to mere gatherings of people who look the same. All are welcome to participate in such student organizations and experience the sense of belonging they offer to those who may feel different. As a campus community, we should attempt to better understand this nebulous notion of “being different” which affects one half of the University and seems to be irrelevant for the other half.
I write as a registered Republican and a Filipino-American wanting to express the importance of conducting a frank dialogue about diversity and inclusion. I write as a Californian who grew up in one of the poorest cities in America, in the Central Valley heartland cultivated by generations of Filipino and Mexican migrants. I write as a concerned Notre Dame student who recognizes that the fruit of the ongoing debate about Ann Coulter is that people are now willing to talk about race relations. It is true we no longer live in an age of rampant racism, but we should not remain stagnant in the opposite extreme and pretend that we have already established a society free of cultural stigmas and prejudices, a post-race utopia.
So go on: cry wolf and awaken others from their slumber of indifference. Be bold and let your opinions, your prejudices and your ideas out. Risk being correct and risk being corrected. A dialogue can only be mutually transformative if we engage each other through an honest exchange of experiences.
Prinz Jeremy Llanes Dela Cruz
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.