A long, long time ago … when I was just a pup … kids were told this country was a “melting pot;” that all sorts of people from all sorts of places had come here seeking a new and better life.
We were told that was “good.” It meant different religions, different skills, different beliefs and – most distinct of all – possibly different skin colors. We were assured America was supposed to be that way; that was what made us strong. Many contributing, unique histories, skills and talents while creating a “racial tapestry.”
I wish it were still true. If it ever was. But it isn’t. Now we bunch up and keep our distances. Race and religion can often determine what part of the city we live in. And next to whom. Even small Northwest communities have Black, Asian, Hispanic or other racial neighborhoods. Assimilation used to mean coming together to share talents, treasure and even our differences for the advancement of all. It didn’t mean losing your heritage or racial identity by becoming someone else. Somewhere along the way, we lost that ability to be similar but not identical.
I come at this issue like a mongrel dog. My genealogical background is Heinz 57; a mixture of half a dozen European countries. That’s OK. But I truly envy those who have a clear racial or ethnic identity. They have language, music, culture and history to celebrate. They have a straight line to their roots. But when they close ranks, separate and apart from the rest of a community, we are the poorer for not being able to share all that.
There is a culture in the West that does not divide itself from others: the Basques of Idaho, Oregon and Nevada. Whatever community they’re in, they are fully integrated into its life. And most do so while preserving the Basque language and heritage of who they are and where they came from.
As a non-Basque, I find the language impossible and haven’t figured out the often repetitive music. But both are fascinating when they have festivals and other celebrations and the rest of us can get involved. They love to share Basque foods, games, dance and stories of how ancestors came to America, most often to herd sheep. (more…)