What’s for dinner? A tossed salad or a melting pot?

The Great American Melting PotThe funniest bloopers are right here

Okay, I am totally showing my age here, but when I was a kid in the
midwest in the 1970’s and 80’s, my sister and brother and I would spend
every Saturday morning watching cartoons and its safe to say that much
of what I remember about the 3 R’s (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic)
came from the Schoolhouse Rock series that ran from 1973 to 1985.

Some of you might remember – Conjunction junction, what’s your
function? and who could forget little, lonely "Bill" on Capital Hill?

These mini-musicals were such a sign of the times. And a few years back Disney (who you all recall is my favorite
corporate company), put together a compilation of the 41 Schoolhouse
Rock "episodes." I thought it would be a fun way to kick in the
nostalgia-memory cells and show my kids how tv was done in the "olden"
days. They were amazed at the wonder of "3 is the magic number" and
"Sufferin’ til sufferage."

In 1976, the Schoolhouse Rock creators began working on a series to celebrate and highlight the bicentennial which they titled "America Rock." My favorite of the America Rock series was "The Great American Melting Pot"
with the image of all these little kids jumping into a swimming pool
"pot" shaped like the United States. Of course, as an internationally
adopted kid, "The Great American Melting Pot" was a comforting notion.
Heck, the United States is a country MADE of immigrants like myself!


Uh, wrong. Looking back at TGAMP with fresh and adult eyes, here is
what I noticed: American was founded by the English, German, French and
Dutch. And the "immigrants" who came "in search of honest pay" were
Russian and Italian.

Hm. Nary a Korean, Nigerian, Iranian, Japanese, Indian, Kenyan or Samoan.

According to the 1970s version of the United States, this country was only made up of European and Eastern Europeans.

Nothing about the people who were already on the land. Nothing about the slaves and indentured servants kidnapped and stolen and forced to "immigrate."

In short, nothing but a happy, pastel rainbow version of how great all the "immigrants" have "melted" into a giant pot.

In the class I’m currently teaching, there are only a few of us who
are over 35 and who might have a memory of this version of our
country’s history, and of those of us who are over 35, several
immigrated to the country while in their teens or as early adults.

I played this video clip for the class a few weeks ago and it was a
stitch to see my students’ reactions. One student brought up the
"melting pot" vs. "tossed salad" analogy and it made for a lively
discussion. My daughter, in her viewing of this clip, said outright,
"That’s racist!"

I used this clip in my lecture on the frameworks and messages we
receive about race and differences in our childhoods, through media,
and our culture. I think about how much more people of color are
represented in the media now, versus when I was a kid; yet mostly those
representations are still founded on stereotypes.

None of the America Rock episodes address slavery or how the early
colonists tried to wipe out the First Nations people who were living on
the land they wanted to homestead. Which in a way surprises me since
this is after the Civil Rights movement and MLK, an era which I have
always associated as a time of hippies, the feminist movement and 70s
"Free to be You and Me." To give you a comparrison, the miniseries Roots was aired in 1977, the same year "The Great American Melting Pot" began its Saturday morning run.

In researching America Rock, I looked for some kind of critique of
the biased representation of what "America" is (and of course, they say
"America" but really mean the United States, not North or South
America). I haven’t come across one yet. Even when Disney re-issued
these episodes, where was the review about how "old school" they are?
That the idea of a pluralistic society back then was equated with a
European-ethnic identity and not a truly global ethnic identity?

In the episode "Elbow Room" about the western expansion in the United States, the lyrics state,

And so, in 1803 the Louisiana Territory

was sold to us Without a fuss 

And gave us lots of Elbow Room!

The song continues later with:

There were plenty of fights
To win land rights,
But the West was meant to be;
It was our Manifest Destiny!

Ah, good old Manifest Destiny!

It’s things like "America Rock" that contributed to my internalized
racism and internal colonization. Despite the lack of people "like me"
portrayed in these vehicles of education I completely bought into the
melting pot mentality. It’s bizarre that as an internationally adopted
person who was raised by a family who embodied the perception of what
"American" was I was raised to believe I had the same white privilege
of my family and could not reconcile why other people did not "know
this." Because duh – other people saw me as a racialized person. That’s
a humdinger of a concept to try and get.

I wonder what an accurate "cartoon musical" of TGAMP would look
like if created today. More of a curiosity is whether it could ever be
made. I know it would be controversial. In todays world, even a tossed
salad is gonna be drenched in the salad dressing of assimilation.

Here are the lyrics to "The Great American Melting Pot" by Lynn Ahrens:

My grandmother came from Russia
A satchel on her knee,
My grandfather had his father’s cap
He brought from Italy.
They’d heard about a country
Where life might let them win,
They paid the fare to America
And there they melted in.

Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she’s got
Is the great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.

America was founded by the English,
But also by the Germans, Dutch, and French.
The principle still sticks;
Our heritage is mixed.
So any kid could be the president.

You simply melt right in,
It doesn’t matter what your skin.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from,
Or your religion, you jump right in
To the great American melting pot.
The great American melting pot.
Ooh, what a stew, red, white, and blue.

America was the New World
And Europe was the Old.
America was the land of hope,
Or so the legend told.
On steamboats by the millions,
In search of honest pay,
Those 19th-century immigrants sailed
To reach the U.S.A.

Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she’s got
Is the great American melting pot
The great Anerican melting pot.
What good ingredients,
Liberty and immigrants.

They brought the country’s customs,
Their language and their ways.
They filled the factories, tilled the soil,
Helped build the U.S.A.
Go on and ask your grandma,
Hear what she has to tell
How great to be an American
And something else as well.

Lovely Lady Liberty
With her book of recipes
And the finest one she’s got
Is the great American melting pot
The great American melting pot.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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