The American Melting Pot

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The melting pot is an image that conjures up the ideals of American culture, of the United States as the place where people come from many nations, journeying across oceans and crossing borders to become a new kind of person: the American. You come from distant lands, leaving behind all you once were, your old ways of thinking, your old ways of eating, your oppression, your lack of opportunity, and you are given a fresh start, the much sought after “clean slate”, and the ability to make of yourself whatever you want. The idea is romantic and poetic, but isn’t representative of the immigrant experience.

 It was the French-American author Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur who most famously and deeply propagated the idea of the United States as the world’s melting pot. Crèvecoeur was a fairly well-to-do man who was born and died in France, served in the French military, and eventually obtained American citizenship in New York where he lived for some years as a farmer. Two years after leaving America he published a book in London entitled Letters from an American Farmer under the American pseudonym John Hector St. John. In this book he asks the question "What is an American?" 

 What then is the American, this new man? [...] He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our Alma Mater. Here individuals of all races are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.

 I find it interesting that this passage from an affluent French lieutenant turned farmer who never permanently lived in the United States has become the defining identity of the American ethos. Crèvecoeur’s ideas have prevailed into our modern times, but we’ve taken them a step further. The American melting pot is no longer the way things naturally occur in this country; it’s the way things must occur. It’s the new law of what is mistakenly called assimilation.

 When an immigrant comes to the United States, he is expected to speak our language, follow our trends, tend to our schedules, and try to be more like upper class American suburbia. We call it assimilation but in actuality it’s an unrealistic cultural expectation of extreme adaptation. Immigrants are expected to arrive in America as blank pages. If they cling to any strand or fiber of their roots that we don’t approve of they’re accused of not assimilating into American culture and of trying to overtake it with their own. Of course certain cultural traces and traits are acceptable, while others are not. Having an Italian accent is attractive; having a Mexican accent means you don’t speak English well. Wearing traditional African clothes is chic; wearing a hijab is threatening. If you’re from Sweden we assume you have great style; if you’re from Colombia we assume you’re a drug smuggler. The list goes on an on.

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 But why shouldn’t we assume this? Isn’t that the way immigration works? It’s only fair. They’re coming to our country, setting foot on our turf. We’re Americans, why should we adjust to accommodate the outsiders? Because that is what an American does, and has done for most of our short history. When we talk about true assimilation, we see the preexisting culture take upon itself to incorporate the entrance of a new culture. Let me give you an example. The immigrant comes speaking Spanish and eating tacos. Americans find themselves saying "gracias" and add tortillas to their shopping lists. The immigrant comes speaking Farsi and frying falafel. Next thing we know, words like shawarma, kebab, and baklava don't seem foreign but delicious. Assimilation is about an addition, not a subtraction. The dominant culture is expected to adapt to the entrance of the foreign, not exterminate it. America, the burden of assimilation is not on the immigrant entering our borders, it's on us.

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Here’s the bottom line: assimilation isn’t something an immigrant can do on their own; it’s something that we have to do together. America isn’t a place where people come to lose themselves because Lady Liberty isn’t a lunch lady tossing everything from the fridge into the pot and calling it a nation. She is a chef, and a good one. She respects the origin and history of each ingredient and attempts to bring out its best flavors, accent its unique attributes, and celebrates them on the unique menu. America isn’t a melting pot it’s a dinner party where everybody brings their favorite dish to the table. If the immigrants bringing sushi and enchiladas and pho had merely melted into the existing American culture, we would never know about their rich culinary treasures. But they didn’t merely try to “fit in,” they shared their food and culture, rejoicing when we accepted, and remaining stubborn when we refused. We in turn did the same. We assimilated. Together.


 I'm going to end this post by contrasting Crèvecourer's words with those of Marcus Eli Ravage, a Romanian immigrant to the US. His book An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant present a very different and I believe more accurate look into the immigrant experience. Written one hundred years ago in 1917, his words are haunting and timely for 2017.

 When I hear all around me the foolish prattle about the new immigration –" the scum of Europe," as it is called— that is invading and making itself master of this country, I cannot help saying to myself that Americans have forgotten America. The native, I must conclude, has, by long familiarity with the rich blessings of his own land, grown forgetful of his high privileges and ceased to grasp the lofty message which America wafts across the seas to all the oppressed of mankind. What, I wonder, do they know of America, who know only America? [...] It is the free American who needs to be instructed by the benighted races in the uplifting word that America speaks to all the world. Only from the humble immigrant, it appears to me, can he learn just what America stands for in the family of nations. The alien must know this, for he alone seems ready to pay the heavy price for his share of America. He, unlike the older inhabitant, does not come into its inheritance by the accident of birth. Before he can become an American he must first be an immigrant [...] try to think of leave-taking –of farewells to home and kindred, in all likelihood never to be seen again; of last looks lingering affectionately on things and places; of ties broken and grown stronger in the breaking. Try to think of the deep upheaval of the human soul, pulled up by the roots from its ancient, precious soil, then slowly finding nourishment in the new soil, and once more thriving –not, indeed, as before— a novel, composite growth. If you can see this you may form some idea of the sadness and the glory of his adventure. Oh, if I could show you America as we of the oppressed peoples see it! If I could bring home to you even the smallest fraction of this sacrifice and this upheaval, the dreaming and the strife, the agony and the heartache, the endless disappointments, the yearning and the despair – all of which must be ours before we can make a home for our battered spirits in this land of yours. 


This post will be pretty short, I just wanted to say that this year has been full of changes and challenges for me. It's been a bit of a rocky road. But in spite of that, and maybe also because of that, I have a lot to be thankful for. So I wanted to throw a party to celebrate Jesus and friends and family and food and to thank some of the people who have made my arrival to this new place a good one. And this is the result of that. Three turkeys, people from different backgrounds, countries, and political views all at the same table. It was crazy and fun and a lot of work, and one hundred percent worth it, a lot like this life we live. Happy Thanksgiving you guys, be blessed.

Psalm 136, selected verses

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

Discovering what was never lost

This post is going to be a little bit different as I'm not writing about food, but about writing about food. Feel free to come back to this post later if you're hungry.

Blogging and "Adverturegramming"

One thing I have noticed in the "adventure-gram" culture I find myself a part of is the obsession with discovery. It's not so much about knowing and experiencing something great anymore, it's about getting credit for finding it. We hold the treasure up high with the pretext of sharing it with others so they can experience it too; but let's be real, the flags we plant to champion our "discoveries" are in long inhabited lands with weathered flags all their own. Now, we never claim the thing itself as our own, but we seize the fame of having discovered it. Instagram is a great testament to this. Food and travel magazines do this. I do this. We want insider knowledge. But it's not enough to have it, we have to be the first to share it, to expose it before someone else does. It's not really about the the discovery anymore, it's about the discoverer. As writer G.K. Chesterton once mockingly said of himself: 

"I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what has been discovered before." 

Truth be told, my delve into the adventuregraming world started off as a joke among friends, it then became an experiment, then an obsession. To be clear I never would have kept it up if I didn't genuinely appreciate the artistic talent involved in these types of accounts. The photos are amazing. The quotes are inspiring. But getting into it, I felt like we're missing something. We don't read books anymore, we just read quotes. We don't form part of communities anymore, we just snap the good parts and ex the areas we don't see value in. We talk a lot about the love of things but it feels a little hallow. We only love places long enough to steal a quick pic and write a few words about how it made us feel (or, looking back on it a few days later, how we imagined one might feel in that place). The fact that we spend more time typing out hashtags then comments shows where our priorities are. To some degree it's impossible to avoid some of these tendencies, and they aren't all bad. I don't mean to over-exaggerate or impose too much philosophy on a trend or aesthetic, it has its place and I enjoy it. But if that's all we're about, it's kind of baseless.

The anti-conquest

This blog is, as I stated in the description, about food, the friends who have shared their lives and culture through that food, and how both have now become a part of my own life. These are things I will experience regardless of the existence of Wero Kitchen. To me, this blog is a fun outlet to organize experiences, recipes, and life lessons people have taught me. I will always travel, I will always cook, I will always take photographs. This is merely a public memoir of these things, because I think you will enjoy them too. I usually don't create anything new, I just show you what I find beautiful. I enjoy sharing these experiences from places you may not be able (or want) to go. The goal is somewhat of an anti-conquest. I go across the world (or down the street) to surrender my sensibilities and my tastebuds, and the treasures I take back with me are the ones I've been given as a gift. 

Food and Friends

When looking for flavorful things, I started in the home and on the street not because I expected to find them there, but because I did find them there. I like home cooking because I spend time in people's homes. I like street food because I love city streets. The first time I had paella in Spain was in a home, not a restaurant. The home set my flavor expectations for the dish. The same with mole, the same with carnitasflautas, tacos al pastor, etc. I experienced all these things on the street with friends or in the home first, and they set the standard. Restaurants are catching up, and doing some cool and innovative things, but the essence of these foods will always be with their origins. 

THE dignity of the street

There is a dignity to the street and the home that is experiencing a resurgence now. It was never lost, but it's in the spotlight now. TV shows, magazines, newspapers, even movies are dedicated to it, restaurants paradoxically offer "street food" on their menus. Some may lament this, saying it's becoming commercialized (yes, I have seen the "street taco" packs in the refrigerated aisle of the supermarket, whatever that means). But it's not a bad thing, it's a great thing. Trends, whether we like the word or not, pioneer development and creativity. Granted, a lot of people on the bandwagon will only be there with a lemming status and there is a lot of bad food to be avoided, but that doesn't change the fact that a bandwagon moves forward. And besides, if someone tries something new just because it's trendy, they are still trying something new. As new dishes pop up on the scene, they become part of the culture of that community. Sure that changes the dish somewhat, but the dish also change the culture and the environment, and that's exciting.   

how to find the best food

There is an old Hebrew proverb that says it's better to eat a bowl of vegetables with someone you love than a delicious steak with someone you hate. There is a lot of truth in that. If you want to find good food, that's where you start. When you find a chef who cares about other people, you find a good chef. A chef who is trying to make a name for himself can make amazing and delicious food, absolutely. But there is something about pouring out your best for someone else, for their sole benefit, that adds a depth of flavor. That's why when I go to Mexico City, I don't stay in Polanco, the zona nice with the shining glass buildings and clean buses and secure areas. When I go, I stay in Neza where the cumbia from the neighbor's buzzy speakers shake the walls and the beat is punctuated by gun shots and stray dogs barking, because that's where my friends live. I've had near strangers open up their homes to me, sleep on the couch to give up their beds for me, prepare food for me when they don't have enough to feed themselves. They don't do this because I'm honorable, but because they are. They don't do this because I'm cool, but because they are. And that's the secret to finding the best food. Find the best people, let them be your guide, and enjoy the journey.