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Melting Pot

Many years ago there was a pretty good sitcom on network TV called “Welcome Back, Kotter”. The scripts were funny, the acting was good – it made a star out of John Travolta – but my favorite thing about that show was the name of one of the characters: Juan Epstein. What a fabulous name! I always thought it was an inspired bit of script writing. In two common words it personified the much-vaunted melting pot that really is America, whether we admit it or not.

I once met a man who described his ethnicity as “Heinz 57″. I like that too. If the currently popular reality TV shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Finding Your Roots” are any indication, it could probably describe half of the country. Given the evidence, I find the current anti-immigration sentiment among some segments of our society totally incomprehensible. Who among us is NOT an immigrant? Only one group comes to mind: the folks who – in Will Rogers’ famous observation – met the boat! (And even they probably came from Asia. Ethnographers are still arguing about that one.)

In 2014 the number of Native Americans was pegged at 5.4 million, representing 2% of the total population. However, less than half of those are described as full-bloods, implying that the majority have mixed with all those immigrants that the rest of us represent.

Here in Indian Country we often bemoan the rapidly diminishing number of full-blooded Native Americans. I kind of have mixed emotions about that one. On the one hand it’s happened to all the rest of us, so why not the aborigines? But it’s not exactly the same. This particular race/people was targeted for extinction by the United States government, and it came frightfully close to succeeding.

Unlike the buffalo, nobody came to the rescue of the Indians, so their survival is particularly miraculous. So maybe preserving racial purity is more justified in this case. But as a member of another ethnicity that was once the victim of so-called racial purity, I have a real problem with that term and its meaning. Perhaps preserving the culture and heritage of our ancestors should take precedence over actual blood lines. In any case, I can ponder the subject from here to midnight, but it’s not for me to decide.

Despite hundreds of years of genocidal federal policies, Indians are today one of the fastest growing demographics in the country and that number is projected to more than double by 2060 – still not a hugely significant minority, but impressive under the circumstances.

As a pasty-white, mostly Anglo (who really knows?) American, I have always had color envy, and in my wanton youth risked my health and squandered hundreds of hours attempting to acquire what was universally considered a more desirable shade of skin. It always seemed to me that the perfect skin color would be something more or less resembling café au lait.

But we are human, of course, so the darkest-colored races of the world wish they were lighter; the fairer-skinned people wish they were darker. (Does anybody else notice the irony here?) Maybe we could meet somewhere in the middle? Or – really – what’s wrong with the way we are now??

Globalization (if we, as a species survive all of its side effects) may be accomplishing it for us. Demographers tell us the darker-skinned people are rapidly increasing in North America and there are of course, a lot of old white men in this country who are absolutely distraught about it. GOOD! Nobody should be in the majority for millennia, for Pete’s sake!

And if anybody really wants an example of what’s going on, just take a glance at who has occupied the White House for the past eight years! Utterly astonishing.

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