Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Melting Pot, Salad Bowl & Rujak

As an Indonesian with the opportunity to live in the US, I have had quite an interesting experience. For me it is a real visualization of western movies I've seen, that indeed America consists of a lot of people from all around the world with diverse cultural, ethnic and religious background.

The United States is often called as a melting pot, a place where everybody from all over the world meets and unites as Americans. The “Melting Pot” term was first used to describe the celebration of American value created by immigrants from Europe in 1870s, and popularized in 1905 by Israel Zangwill, a British writer and humorist.

But from early 1930s there has been some questions and critique about the Melting Pot concept. Some people, mainly the multiculturalists, begin to wonder whether America –as a nation of immigrants— actually dissolves its immigrant’s cultures into one American Culture and lose their origin’s values. The melting pot refers to a condition where everything in heterogeneous culture melts and become one homogenous culture.

The multiculturalists used the term “Salad Bowl” to counter “The Melting Pot”. They believe in the “Salad Bowl” concept, where the richness of diverse culture is not lost to become homogenous. “Salad Bowl” offers a mix of ingredients that still could be distinguished from one another, but still creates one whole new rich flavor.

In the salad bowl, lettuce, tomatoes, shrimp, and the sauce still could be distinguished from one another. The same as America where the Irish, the Italian, the Chinese, the Hispanic and the Black still can be identified as unique societies that blend together as Americans. Each of them preserve their old traditional values and pass it for generations. Chinese has their Chinese New Year, Black Americans has their Kwanzaa, Hispanics has their Cinco de Mayo, Irish has their St. Patrick days, the Jews have their Passover, and as for the Muslims, next month they will be observing Ramadhan and celebrating Eid Mubarak. America has all different celebrations for many different groups.

After covering the ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) Convention from July 1st to 4th in Chicago, I started pondering deeper about the life of Muslims in America. Are they lost in the “American Melting Pot” or do they still maintaining their identity as expected from the “American Salad Bowl” concept?

This event is the 48th convention of ISNA. The main event is a series of seminars on subjects important to American Muslims, and on the sideline there is a bazaar of Muslim products from halal foods, books, toys to handicraft. The five day event is attended by approximately 40,000 Muslims from all over America. Here, the diverse faces of American Muslims are truly revealed by the diversity of ISNA attendees. There are men wearing white robes to blue jeans and women wearing black burqas to pink skirts.

The theme of this year's convention is "Loving God, Loving Neighbor, Living in Harmony". Imam Mohamed Magid, ISNA President, said that they have this theme to encourage Muslims and fellow Americans to uphold their faith as the practice of Loving God, and from loving God they should connect with their neighbors regardless who the neighbors are. Then he advised Muslims to invite people to their Mosque and show to American society in general that Islam is indeed a religion of peace and Muslims do strive to live in harmony with other groups.

In ISNA I’ve met a lot of people that are very proud of being a Muslim and also American at the same time. Most of them do not feel that their Muslim faith contradicts the American way of life. Personally and professionally, they are capable to communicate, conduct business, socialize, and blend perfectly outside their community. They are proud of being American Muslims.

One of the attendees there, Aala Mohamed, a Yale student, has her own opinion about the face of American Islam. She thinks that the face of American Islam is the face of every American; that the true meaning of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness –the famous phrase in United States declaration of independence—cannot be separated from American Muslims, because for some the goals of pursuing life, liberty and happiness are through Islam.

From what I saw in ISNA, I learned that American Muslims preserve their identity in this “Salad Bowl.” This community uphold its unique culture and specific values, maintain a strong bond to their faith, without feeling they need to give it up to be part of the American society.

This example made me question how we handle diversity back home. In Indonesia, we have a lot of laws to preserve diversity. But some cases regarding the treatment of minorities, for example GKI Yasmin Bogor to Ahmadiyah, do not reflect that. These cases do not reflect that we are also the “Salad Bowl” –or “Rujak” society.

So, are we going to melt? Or are we going to introduce the “Indonesian Rujak” to the world?

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