America, a Melting Pot?

Posted by Brooke B. Michigan

My project, through interviews, explores the relationship between being an American and cultural background. My interview subjects are high school students with varying cultural backgrounds.

 America is a country that is quite literally built off immigration and a mix of cultures. We, as a nation, represent a melting pot of different values, beliefs, cultures, and traditions, coming from all over the world. However, America has a long history of obstructions of natural rights and discriminatory practices against certain people based off the very aspects that our country was built on; different cultural backgrounds. A standout point in our history is the fight against discriminatory practices against African-Americans based on their cultural backgrounds, that continues today. This raises the question, how do we keep our family’s history and culture alive in a country where that culture could be subject to change or discrimination? Should our family’s history play a role in who we are, or should it remain history? I conducted some interviews with fellow students of varying cultural backgrounds to help me find the answers.

Interview #1 Isabella LaPorte (16 years old)

How much do you know about your family's history?

A lot!

Can you describe what you know about your cultural background and family background?

My great-grandma is from Sicily, Italy. Her dad owned a ski resort there. Her name was Elda Geza and she came here on a boat with her husband when she was eighteen years old. She had a total of twenty seven dollars with her at the time when she came over. She came to Michigan and she had my grandmother, Nancy, and four more children after that. Soon after, my great-grandfather passed away and she was left alone to raise her five children.

How do you think living in the United States has shaped your perception of your background?

Sometimes I feel as though its altered it in a bad way. I feel as though my family's culture has gotten slightly warped by American culture, and that I haven't gotten to experience genuine Italian culture.

Do you think the culture of your background is apart of your identity?

Yes, it's a part of all my family's traditions. I have a really big family, which is an Italian thing, and I love it.

Do you feel like you have to sacrifice your cultural background in order to be an American?

No, America is a place where all backgrounds and cultures should be accepted.

Interview #2 Nick Sesi (17 years old)

How much do you know about your family’s history?

A lot.

Can you describe what you know about your cultural background and family history?

I’m Chaldean. My parents, they were both born in Iraq in Baghdad. They grew up there, then they came here to America and moved to Detroit, and then finally came here to Royal Oak.

How do you think living in America has shaped your perception of your background?

I think sometimes in America there’s negative stereotypes against Middle Eastern and Arabic people, and it’s hard to not let that affect the way you see your own culture and people. Sometimes I feel like there’s not enough cultural diversity in the U.S., and that can whitewash over my family’s cultures and traditions. I don’t really feel like my culture is represented in the U.S.

Do you think the culture of your background is apart of your identity?

Yeah, it affects pretty much all parts of my life. It’s what shapes my family’s traditions and the way I was raised.

Do you feel like you have to sacrifice your cultural background in order to be an American?

I don’t, but I know that my parents felt like they had to when they first came here. They felt they needed to be more Americanized in order to be successful, but I know they later realized that this wasn’t necessary. I think we live in a culture now where being more diverse, or being more ethnic actually helps you succeed.

Interview #3 Oluwatobiloba Adesanya (16 years old)

How much do you know about your family’s history?

Plenty.

Can you describe what you know about your cultural background and family history?

My parents were born in Nigeria and my mother won a lottery to come live here in the U.S. and here we are! They lived with a family friend when they first came here because it’s hard to move over here and just straight up buy a home, so they had to work for it. They lived with that family friend for a year and then got an apartment, and after that apartment got a house.

How do you think living in America has shaped your perception of your background?

Not many Americans know anything about Nigerian culture, or any type of African culture. There are so many misrepresentations about Africans and African culture everywhere you look, in the news and in movies and magazines. But I don’t let that change the way I see my own culture. I know what Nigeria is and what it means to me and my family.

Do you think the culture of your background is apart of your identity?

Yeah, it makes me a better and stronger person. It makes me appreciate more parts of my life.

Do you feel like you have to sacrifice your cultural background in order to be an American?

No, part of being an American is bringing your culture to the table.

Interview #4 Timofij Blysniuk (17 years old)

How much do you know about your family’s history?

I know some.

Can you describe what you know about your cultural background and family history?

From both sides of my family, both my mom and my dad’s side, they were immigrants from Ukraine fleeing either Stalin or conflict in the area. The difference is that, though they both fled, my dads side went to Canada and my moms side went to America, specifically Illinois in Chicago. And through networks and different Ukrainian youth groups, they both ended up meeting each other in a Ukrainian camp in Toronto.

How do you think living in America has shaped your perception of your background?

For me personally, living in the U.S. has definitely taken away from how connected I am to my Ukrainian side. I used to speak Ukrainian and go to a Ukrainian school, but I drifted from that as I got older, though I wish I hadn’t.

Do you feel like you have to sacrifice your cultural background in order to be an American?

I should hope not.

Everyone who identifies as an American walks along a path, one with an American flag flying high in front of them, and with their family’s history behind them. You look at the flag flapping high in the air, its red, white, and blue contrasting deeply and waving as a symbol of hope and opportunity in the sky. Is that flag what it means to be an American? You smell the food of your family’s traditional cooking behind you and everything it reminds you of, is this something you’re meant to leave behind?

There is a necessity for all Americans to embrace their cultural background, come to terms with it, and learn from it. This is abundantly clear in the interviews. Undeniably, your background is a part of who you are and your identity. Whether it’s through Nick’s family traditions, or Timofij’s years in Ukrainian school, your family’s history has woven it’s way into your life and lives on through you, and because America is a melting pot built on the foundations of immigration, that is what makes you an American. Not the sacrifice of your culture, but the marriage of your background and an American identity.

However, we must continue to advocate for our backgrounds and cultures as individuals, and be conscious of the ways in which our culture can fade away. As Isabella LaPorte said, she feels as though her culture has gotten warped by America. This is potentially dangerous, as beautiful and meaningful aspects of our families histories could easily slip away. Simply being aware of this is enough to counteract this, “Americanization” of culture, something we need to avoid if we want to preserve the culture that is apart of who we are and our lives. We need to actively fight against discrimination against other cultural backgrounds by being open and seeing the merit in different cultures.

One could argue that our cultural backgrounds exist in the past and have no role in our current lives, however as the interviews and the culture of America as a society has shown, this is simply untrue. There is a reason for black history museums, restaurants that serve traditional cultural dishes, and holiday traditions; we do not want to forget our backgrounds. Our background is how we learn and has made us who we are today.

Everyone who identifies as an American walks off a path. The American realizes that there is no choice between being an American or embracing your cultural background. 

Published on Jun 9, 2018
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Writing Our Future: American Creed is part of the National Writing Project’s family of youth publishing projects, all gathered under the Writing Our Future initiative.

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