Chancellor Linda Katehi: Leaving the “Melting Pot” behind: Celebrating our differences becomes core to our community
February 27th, 2014 @ 11:16 am by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi
When I was a college student in Greece in the 70s, my friends and I took classes in American Culture and Language at the Hellenic-American Union in Athens. The location was very close to our campus and after our regular coursework we would walk together to the beautiful multistory building that housed the offices and the classrooms of that organization. Classes were offered in the evening and the most appealing part of this program was that the instructors were all Americans who would not speak a word of Greek. That was important for us. I remember my first day in class when we talked about the American culture. The instructor proudly said that despite the fact that America (for Greeks this means the U.S.) was a country of immigrants, all Americans have the same culture. When we asked why, he said, “In America everyone goes into the Melting Pot.” Then I asked what the “melting pot” was and he mentioned, “something like a fondue, you put all kinds of cheese in there and it comes out as one.” I was left that day with the sense of boiling cheese and I thought how painful it could be to boil in this hot pot.
Forty years later, with almost thirty-five spent in the U.S., I have gladly seen this “Melting Pot” metaphor melting away. I am so pleased I did not have to melt under high heat and pressure and I was able to become a true American in my own way. I have also seen our students trying to do the same. Celebrating who we are in all ways which make us different from others is truly American and our students expect from us at least a recognition of that.
Our week of the Principles of Community started on Monday, February 24, with a student-organized event, the Cultural Awareness Night, to celebrate diversity on our campus. The richness of our diversity was so visible that we all were in awe about the strong community at UC Davis. It was attended by about 150 students and staff and featured cultural performances, cultural attire presentations, music by bands, spoken word and open mic. I got to see for the first time a performance on the Punjabi folk dance Bhangra by our UC Davis students. Bhangra has its origin in the Punjab subcontinent of India. Bhangra dance is based on music from dhol, folk singing, and the chimta. The accompanying songs are small couplets called bolis. Men wore a kurta and pagri (turban) and female students wore salwar-kameez. It was very elegant and I am sharing a picture with you: