Once upon a time I considered my roots to be the ideal for the realization of the American dream. That was before Victim Politics blossomed like crabgrass on a country club green. Then it was that I discovered that my French, Irish, Scottish, and Polish ancestry made me a mongrel.
How in the heck did that happen? Here I was skipping along, free to honor (or not) my O’Donahue or Jablonski or Morton or Latreille bloodlines. I was even thinking that I would be the perfect American if only I had some Jewish or African-American blood in me.
And then, suddenly, I was out of date. I learned that I was a victim of the Melting Pot Theory.
That theory suggested that we Americans were rising above the tribalism of nationality, race, color, and class. The son of Irish immigrants wooed and won that German girl who lived down the street, and that Polish kid courted and married the Italian girl who went to the same high school. Rich girls married poor boys and vice versa. Although they and their families still joyfully celebrated national holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and Columbus Day, it was understood that above all they were Americans.
To be American all you had to do was subscribe to certain principles embedded in our Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. These included the equality of all human beings and unalienable rights like freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. Although often imperfectly realized, the American Dream captured the imagination of the whole world. For all our flaws, we progressed. To this day, folks the world over are pounding on our door seeking to get in. No one is climbing any walls to get out.
This was the land where your grandparents might be uneducated peasants just off the boat (as were mine), but their offspring could get educated (yes, even college) and make good money and own their own homes. Yes, the scars of slavery and other abhorrent bigotry persisted too long in America, and linger even today, but we certainly did and are doing as well or better than most of the world. The last I heard people still want to come here, lots of them.
Then, 30 years or so ago, the political, media, and academic social engineers decided that it was demeaning to be proud of a mixed ancestry. That to praise the Melting Pot idea was to disparage recent arrivals of Hispanic or African or Slavic or whatever backgrounds. You colluded with the oppressors when you let go of your national or racial separateness. Didn’t you understand that it’s all about oppression — of blacks, Latinos, women, gays, transgenders, Hispanics, and left-handers (that’s me, my mongrel blood makes me desperate to be included)?
One might be justified in being suspicious of the way the politicians in particular have leaped on the Victimology idea. It’s called Identity Politics. Don’t vote as an American. You should pull the lever as a Latino, a single woman, a gay, etc. Don’t blend in, it’s all a trick to make you give up your individuality, not to mention your grievances.
Judging from the last election, I suspect that strategy may be overcooked. To mix metaphors, when your song has only one note, it sooner or later falls on deaf ears.
World history has taught us one thing: don’t underestimate the mongrels of America. I think I’ll stay warm this winter in the Melting Pot. I like hanging around with mutts.