Back to US Life Histories

Melting Pot

I still vividly remember the theme song to Sesame Street as the Big Bird and the entire company happily walked along the street, including the multicultural group of young kids singing along. All smiling and together, they were evidently very happy, projecting the idea of having diverse races intermingle and unify. With my younger brother and older sister beside me, we all stared attentively at the television that served to teach us lessons of all sorts. Moral and behavioral lessons included cooperation, friendship, and sharing. Educational lessons focused on mathematics and grammar. And of course, the more serious issues dealt with the more social realm such race/ethnicity (multiculturalism) and even death.

Growing up in a public school in New York City, there was little possibility of having a homogenous group of students make up the population. In turn, I was always surrounded by a widely diverse group of peers, from different backgrounds (socially, yet not quite economically). The themes commonly stressed by faculty (such as principal and teachers) through school lectures and assignments were multiculturalism, unification, and of course, "the melting pot."

With family being a very important aspect of life, I always felt much anticipation and excitement going to family reunions, where music and home videos played major roles in our social lives. Having the loud music play in the background always created a festive and sometimes energetic environment with the combination of accordions and guitars accompanied by laughter. Watching my parents dance salsa and merengue together or with other family relatives would somehow bring them back to their younger days in South America as they smiled and brought up memories of the past. Sitting there with my sister and brother along with cousins, we would have our own separate conversations and glare at all our parents taking over the dance floor (better said, living room panel). In efforts to capture the essence of the night, my uncle always seemed assigned to the video camera. In the middle of everything, he would desperately try to capture every angle possible and every expression made. Different generations of the same background were unified at every reunion where such mediums participated.

Throughout my later years in elementary school, reading quickly became a hobby of mine and I grew fond of novels that impacted me in one way or another, in the classroom. One of the more memorable novels was Summer of my German Soldier in which a young girl risks everything in her entire life, unwilling to conform to rigid traditions and characters, just to protect and nourish a man on the escape from political upheaval. Another impacting reading was the Diary of Anne Frank, in which a young girl recorded her experiences and surviving days during the Holocaust and political upheaval. Both works captured my attention above any of the others during elementary school and shared the common theme of race and struggles throughout a lifetime. I remember having a sympathy for both girls, almost understanding them and although one played a different sort of victim, both were fighting for a cause.

Since childhood, I was always aware that not all races were presented in the same manner when it came to film and movies. Watching "classic" movies such as West Side Story, with my mother curled up beside me on the family couch, I sang along to the theme song, I want to live in America as any child would normally do with a few catchy tunes thrown in. West Side Story mocked the way immigrants (namely Puerto Ricans) tried to accustom themselves to a new society with the excess baggage of their own cultural ways, like accents and style of dress. Because I was at too young of an age to analyze in depth, I simply observed all other immigrants (the "others") around me, hoping to see evident differences that made them so unlike Americans.

Different representations in race seemed to occur everywhere, depending on the perspective of the directors and authors creating those, though sometimes inaccurate. Having six people in the household, it was inevitable that television would show this. Growing up, I remember seeing Hispanics (in particular) playing on either the extreme of the dirty, uneducated scoundrel or the exotic romancer with the foreign accent. The few times that I could see more representation was whenever my grandmother would flip on the Spanish television stations such as Univision and Telemundo, after a satisfying home-cooked dinner. With her not speaking much English, she watched the programs intently, although she didn't necessarily relate to them, as many of the soap operas in particular were always over dramatized.

Throughout my childhood years, I have seen how media has dealt with the theme of race and ethnicity, if it has given it attention at all. Undoubtedly, the media is responsible for creating representations that as a young child, I couldn't always analyze or be critical of. This does not go to say that I wasn't aware or didn't search for something beyond the conventional stereotypes that were typically accepted by many. Having a mixed cultural background, it was inevitable that I would take greater notice of characteristics and music that my parents had brought me up with. Being able to identify with forms of media that could reach out to me wasn't something that left me desperate or helpless but that existed nonetheless.

Back to US Life Histories