Quintessentially Quizzed Queens
Awarded by the esteemed Lonely Planet as the best US travel destination in 2015, Queens is the most multicultural, diverse and vibrant borough in New York City. Holding 2.3 million citizens from all over the world coming from 100 countries, speaking 130 languages, the melting pot is supposedly flourishing here. But is it really the case? And how is it possible for so many different cultures to co-exist and live together in harmony?
In 1897, Queens became a borough in New York. It was also around this period when immigrants began knocking on the door, hoping to get admission to the ‘promised land’. As a new country, the United States was literally founded on immigration and new inspiration from the outside.
Queens became – and still is today – a living example of how ‘the American Dream’ was an important reason for coming to the country in the first place. Raj A. James, an Afro-American pharmacist assistant at the local pharmacy, puts it this way:
“Basically, people come to the US for two reasons: seeking a better life and money. Obviously, those two considerations are essential and closely related to the actual idea behind the American Dream and life in general. Who wouldn’t provide for one’s family and thus aspire for at better future?”
Spanish at the deli
As we stroll farther down the street in Queens, we come across Mohammed. Mohammed is 65 years old, and though there are a few grey areas in his voluminous moustache, the Pakistani deli owner is ‘fit for fight’.
“I’ve been in this wonderful country for 24 years now. As I did back then, I still work 10-12 hours a day. Every day I meet a lot of different people that stop by at my deli. I even learned Spanish!” he exclaims.
Just by taking care of his deli – and just by interacting with Hispanic people in Queens – he learned Spanish. And he did it without even taking any language classes or reading any books. Simply by meeting and talking to these people.
“Of course I had an interest in learning Spanish, since a lot of my customers only spoke this particular language. But I couldn’t improve my skills in my spare time. Why? Because I worked all day. I had to learn while being at work.”
Too busy to blend in
If not cultures are exchanging, languages certainly are – the Pakistani deli owner being a terrific example of that. He agrees with Raj that the number one reason for coming to America is the ‘dollar’. But this also has a downside.
“Everybody wants to make money, and they do – with a considerable amount of success. I mean, take a look at the unemployment rate in Queens (3.8 %). But having people at work half the day means they don’t have much time off.”
Referring to the time off, what Mohammed means is that not many people have the actual time to blend in and mix with each other cross-culturally. They still respect each other, sure, because they know why the Jews are here, they know why the Puerto Ricans are here, and they know why the Italians are here: For the same reason – and that’s what they have in common.
When looking at future generations, the picture looks much brighter in terms of creating the actual “Melting Pot”.
“My daughter attends this high school,” Mohammed says. “Here she meets people with roots from literally all over the world. Her generation is mixing and interacting much more. They understand each other at a whole new level, realising that they are all just human beings.”
Mohammed’s face shines like a diamond when touching upon this theme.
Just to get a few facts straight. When talking about the so-called ‘Melting Pot’, what we mean is different people interacting, ultimately melting together in this imaginative pot. As an analogy it could be a salad. All ingredients added do loose a bit of their original flavour, granted. But coming together in an often delicious blend, each added ingredient will contribute significantly to the greater good.
This ‘Melting Pot’-idea is exactly what America as a country, as an idea, as an experiment, is all about. ’E pluribus unum’ – Latin for ’One out of many’, was considered a de facto motto of the United States until 1956 when Congress passed an act adopting ’In God We Trust’ as the official motto.
Leaving your original culture behind, as an individual you contribute to creating this new unique cross-culture with all the best from you roots.
Israel Zangwill, the creator of the play The Melting Pot, puts it brilliantly:
“America is God’s crucible, the great melting pot where all the races of Europe are melting an reforming.”