America’s preeminent depiction is a melting pot. In theory, it is a harmonious mixture of ethnic traditions from around the world. According to this image, ethnic differences are blended into a homogenous identity. Instead of blending, I congealed in the pot of cultural assimilation, asking myself how it was possible to assimilate in this melting pot when I came from a feared place. A place of criticism. A place of calamity. A place where terrorism is born. That place? Iraq. Throughout my life in America, I have resented that national label for fear of rejection.
An icy aura emanated from the window as I stared at the foreign landscape shrouded in darkness. As the airplane drew closer to its destination, my ethnicity (like everyone else’s) would ultimately meld in the American pot. At nine years old, I had only been acquainted with Middle Eastern traditions, but my curiosity was unrestrained. I asked myself, Who are the Americans? Are they people that descended from the colonists? Are they people born in the United States? Are they people that live there? To me they were foreigners. Despite this, I desired assimilation. One of the first questions I was asked upon landing was “Where are you from?” I answered the customs agent blatantly expecting an amiable reaction. As I waited for a response, I was met with an obscure expression; the eyebrows hoisted towards the hairline to expose agitated pupils. They glared at me, and I knew something was wrong.
As I adapted to my new cultural environment, I caught on to why I had received that undesirable reaction. To America, Iraq is a land operated by feral people that spread destruction, harm, and terrorism across the globe. After realizing this, my blissful optimism developed into trepidation that would trouble me throughout my adolescence. I could not control this prejudice against my homeland. I felt frigidly insoluble in the pot I resided in, unable to bind with the other elements; ultimately, I hid from the surface by fabricating my true identity.
I seized the opportunity to reintroduce myself to the American public when my family relocated to Tempe six months after our arrival. The infamous question was brought up again; this time, however, “California” was my response. Additionally, I avoided any speech in Arabic in front of anyone that looked to be my age; but if someone caught me speaking the idiom, I would blurt that it was Armenian. I know I lied, but this deception eased my assimilation by permitting me to make friends and giving me comfort in my new environment. I tried to justify these actions. After all, I was a Catholic living in a Christian society, so shouldn’t I be accepted? My physical characteristics also helped me hide my true nationality because my fair skin, green eyes, and brown-highlighted hair did not resemble a Middle-Easterner—especially one from Iraq. Despite these fabrications, I shared my true nationality with my teachers because I trusted that they wouldn’t judge me.
This discourse subsided as I entered middle school, since many of my classmates “knew” where I was from. However, I disclosed to the assertive questioners that I was Middle Eastern, though I never specified from where. At least not until seventh grade. My social studies classroom was fairly large, populated by people I was good friends with. It was late in winter when we were learning about the influx of immigrants through Ellis Island; the class was assigned the task of identifying their ethnic origins in the spirit of immigration. I panicked. Earlier that week, my parents met with the teacher and (presumably) told her where we came from; I didn’t want to come off as a liar, but I also didn’t want to disrupt my social reputation. At home, I casually asked my parents where we originated from, hoping that somehow in the previous three years, it would change. They delivered their response, “Iraq,” affirmatively—as if dumbfounded by my inquiry. I pressed them for additional information and discovered that my great-grandfather was born in Turkey; even though my parents classified this Turkish origin as extraneous, I felt a strange sense of freedom. I could now hide the Iraq ethnicity behind the wall of Turkey. I sought to exclusively use my newly-discovered ethnicity for the class assignment... but I knew it would not be just.
I sat in the center of the classroom, my eyes staring at the white board with the word Countries written across the top in bold letters. My head was filled with questions: What will Tyler think? What will Eric think? Will they still like me? I began shivering through my coat and scoured the classroom as the countries were listed out. My turn came. I took a deep breath, looked the teacher in the eyes, and said, “Turkey,” then through the exponential beating of my heart I called out “Iraq.” It was written on the board for all to see. I immediately put my head down on the desk, assuming my classmates would all be shocked. It was out there. I am an Iraqi. I tried my best to undermine this truth by telling people that I was mainly Turkish.
My parents did not know about my nationality crisis because I fully embraced my Middle Eastern culture in private, knowing full-well that I would not be judged. One day, I was in my cousin’s house and stumbled upon a collage about “your life,” and on the piece of cardboard the word Iraq was written in luminous blue bubble letters. For the remainder of the day, I asked myself how she was able to share this with everyone and why I couldn’t. Was I just sensitive? Surely not, since many people share fears of this prejudice. After some thinking, I began to see the repercussions of my deception. My cousin was close to her friends and was respected by her peers; in contrast, I maintained poor social connections due to the false information that I instilled in my conversations. I formulated lies to hide the insecurities that I should have fully embraced; this ended up destroying my authenticity as an individual.
It was different with my American-born cousins. They assimilated without effort. Initially, I envied their “American” lifestyles, their “American” culture, and their perfect “American” accents. But at what cost did such assimilation come? They are not Iraqi. Our language was eradicated from their tongues, our centennial customs disposed from their routines, and our identity melted down due to their willingness to blend in the pot. Is this really what I want? To abandon my ethnicity to appease some individuals? I realized that my mind was so focused on assimilating into the American melting pot that I dispossessed myself of my individuality.
From this ordeal, I recognized that America’s preeminent depiction—a melding of the world’s races, cultures, and traditions to form a patriotic unit—does not exemplify a uniform melting pot. That model is static. It does not properly convey the range of diversity of the cultures and traditions that exist in the United States all melted into one “American nationality.” Others would argue that American society is like a salad bowl, where the individual traditions (ingredients) can be distinguished and each one contributes to a whole when placed together. However, a salad can be easily separated—it is not a unified whole. Most quality salads contain relatively few ingredients; although the flavor can be enhanced with more elements, adding too many can destroy the salad’s innate characteristics. This is a stark contrast to the American principle, which advocates for an increase in diversity whereas the salad can be hindered by supplementary ingredients.
I believe that cultural diversity in America is better embodied in a latte. Think about it: in a latte, each of the various ingredients is pivotal to the taste of the solution. Ingredients such as condensed milk are deduced to be more essential in the composition of the drink, since they are used in the greatest quantity; but elements like vanilla extract, which have a miniscule concentration in comparison, are just as important in the formulation of flavor. Some American ethnicities have greater populations than others, but that does not mean the minority are any less important in defining the American nationality. Additionally, a latte’s color gradient exemplifies the diversity of the American population, merging the dark base, beige center, and creamy surface in a heterogeneous fashion so that each element can be deciphered. I congealed in the melting pot because I felt that my ethnicity would not fuse with the uniform pot. But in the latte, where each layer expresses a different gradient, I could see that my new home was filled with people of varying ethnicities—some looked like me, others had the same religious beliefs, and many are Iraqi. I wasn't alone.
National pride, not homogeneity, is what bonds the members of a society. In the American latte, people should proudly stand for their nationalities and not fear prejudice—it is the land of the immigrants after all. Everyone undergoes developmental phases where priorities are reevaluated and beliefs are embodied. For me, such a transition occurred during the later years of my adolescence when I fully embraced myself as an Iraqi.