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A Muddled America By: Jocelyn Wang

Photo: Forbe's article: "The Top 50 Schools For International Students 2019" by: Carter Coudriet - The beauty of individuals embracing their individual identity and others is a sign of true synergy. This is something that we all should strive to achieve.

Abstract

How do memories affect the way the characters of The Melting Pot view their place in American society, and how do the evolving identities of immigrants shape the communities throughout the play and the U.S.?

The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill is the story of star-crossed lovers, David Quixano and Vera Revendal. Zangwill is very generous with stage directions and footnotes regarding Jewish culture and the Yiddish language: “The whole effect is a curious blend of shabbiness, Americanism, Jewishness, and music, all four being combined in the figure of MENDEL QUIXANO…” (Zangwill, pg 63, CR:276). Despite both being Russian immigrants, David comes from a lower-middle class Jewish family, while Vera hails from nobility (and is Christian Greek-Orthodox). Through music, they form a relationship and eventually fall in love. A few parallels can be drawn between their story and that of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Both their families constantly remind them how different they are from each other. Mendel discourages their relationship as Vera is not Jewish and does not understand the painful history their ancestors had to endure. Vera’s father, Baron Revendal, was a proponent of the pogrom that annihilated David’s family and views Jews as inferior. The couple strives to live a happy life in the present, but their dark pasts eventually intertwine, forcing them apart. In the end, they eventually reconcile and agree to marry.

Through this essay, I will analyze the gesture of “memories” in The Melting Pot, and the parallels between remembering (and the strength/accuracy of those memories) with creating/erasing identity. I plan to analyze my research question by utilizing examples from the play and the course reader. Using Schechner’s definition of performance, this site will also explore the connection between his definition and memories. In addition, other resources for examples regarding memories and how it builds or breaks down communities will be sprinkled throughout the essay. I thought it would be interesting to compare memories and identity because I noticed in each successive generation of my own family, we forget parts of our roots and merge more with American culture. In the essay, I’d like to argue the dangers of assimilation and methods that can be used to combat this. The goal of this website is to break down how and why individual identities of immigrants change over time and across generations.

The Melting Pot by: Wikipedia: Due to the fact that we accessed this play through the course reader, I had not seen this cover until looking it up. It is interesting how it changed my perception of the play. In my eyes, the immigrants walking in to the Melting Pot seem to disappear, and walk on a path that has no return.
"Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory" - Dr. Seuss

Photo: Statue of Liberty by: Fabian Fauth - The statue is symbolic of what many immigrants, especially European ones, coming to the United States saw for the first time: hope, freedom, and a fresh start.

Essay

Memories in the play "The Melting Pot" by Israel Zangwill and in communities

What is the significance of young people struggling to remember just as much as the elderly? The memories that stem from their families and the memories they form together in the present shaped how David and Vera behaved in society. Linkage of memories piece together the identity of every person, which in turn affect every one of their encounters: “...memory is a complex process that involves acquiring, storing, and recalling information” (Kendra Cherry, Very Well Mind). The vast range of memories among people is what makes every person unique. But does this nation truly value cultural differences, or do we innately continue to strive for assimilation? Many appear to hide their differences, or shun those that are brave enough to reveal their true colors. Perhaps this is due to the past recollections that the immigrants themselves choose to withhold; the pride, traditions, and identity that lives in those memories may be construed as dangerous to those that do not understand it. Perhaps locking them away was a means to protect their children from being outcasted from society like they were (leaving their country versus not being accepted in a new country). Memories cause the characters of the play to view themselves as the lacquer of a puzzle piece, rather than the piece itself. The shifting of immigrants towards assimilation is a pitfall many fall into, and fosters an environment that discourages diversity.

By examining The Melting Pot, we can delve deeper into how memories affect the identities of immigrants and their descendents in both the play and people today, and will demonstrate the need to take action against the formation of completely homogeneous communities.

Racial Imposter Syndrome by: Leah Donella - Though this image original intent was to symbolize the struggles of biracial children, I think it can also be applied to immigrants and their children being confused about their identity.

Left Photo: Christian and Jewish origins by: Messiani Publications - This image is representative of how the rest of the characters viewed Vera's and David's relationship, they didn't see them as people, but rather as separate religions. Right Photo: Starcross by: State of Formation - The medley of the Christian cross and the Jewish star is a symbol of peace and harmony among two beautiful religions. It connects to the way David and Vera viewed their love.

In the context of Cherry’s quote about memory, this can be linked with the definition of performance. Throughout the semester, this class has been connecting events, people, and social movements to analyze them with the idea of performance in mind. In Richard Schechner’s What Is Performance, he states, “...a performance takes place as action, interaction, and relation. In this regard, a painting or a novel can be performative or can be analyzed “as” performance. Performance isn’t “in” anything, but “between”’ (Schechner pg.3; CR 15). Under this definition, memories are the backbone of performance; they formulate the blueprint for a series of actions and encounters between people. The accumulation of these “memories morphed into performances” combine to become an identity. Whether it is a lone identity or a collective one is a conundrum: “The habits, rituals, and routines of life are restored behaviors. These strips of behavior can be rearranged or reconstructed, they are independent of the causal systems… that brought them into existence” (Schechner pg.7; CR 19). Memories are created, yet recycled, taken in, then thrown away. Keeping this juggling act balanced is vital to solidifying identity. Unfortunately, immigrants and their children struggle with this, and may continue to do so for the rest of their lives. What do they retain and what do they forget? Should they pass on everything to posterity, or relinquish the reins and allow their children to become the “all-American”? This internal battle is universally present in both fictional characters and real people.

The Great American Melting Pot by: Bennett Cartoons - Though America prides itself on having a diverse background of people, is this "pot" a stable vessel? Or is it burning its contents to a crisp and molding it into one?

Throughout the play, memories permeate the identities of the characters and in turn, affecting their interactions in society. The past brings comfort and familiarity for Frau Quixano in the large foreign world of America, as seen in her practices as a devout Jew. Mendel’s memories leave him more mixed, allowing him to connect to the “old” of Europe and the “new” of America. David’s trauma from surviving a pogrom leaves him very willing to embrace American culture as a way to forget: “I know you meant it for my good, but what would these Europe-apers have understood of my America-the America of my music? They look back on Europe as a pleasure ground, a palace of art-but I know [Getting hysterical] it is sodden with blood, red with bestial massacres” (Zangwill pg. 109; CR 299). By dissecting the memories of the main characters, the reader can analyze how the depth and strength of certain memories change their identity, especially when given the opportunity to begin anew (immigration). Vera’s memories of being sent to Siberia as a Russian revolutionary leave her in a position similar to David’s. The memories of hurt at her father’s lack of protection years before resurface with a visit from Baron Revendal: “Do you remember when you last saw me? You did not claim me as a daughter then” (Zangwill pg. 123; CR 306). Her former identity as the privileged, young noblewomen disappeared the moment she chose to turn away from her past. Painful memories made David and Vera more susceptible to leaving who they once were behind. While being a part of assimilation can help to build communities, complete assimilation is dangerous in that it blurs the distinctive qualities that make up a person. This leads to the creation of a “muddled” America, where no one wants to think of their past memories. An excessive desire to forget is a trap that many immigrants fall for, and thus leads to the disappearance of unique identities.

Impersonal Assimilation and Personal Loss by: Cristina Deirmengian - Many immigrants unfortunately try to paint a picture of who they want to become, not who they are. Should they avoid being "painted"? Or if they have been "painted", should they chip away at the outer layer that has coated them for so long?

But what if later generations do not purposefully strive to forget? I observed how memories have changed the identities of my own family over the past three generations. My grandparents, having a limited knowledge of English, holds onto the past as comfort. Their memories bring them solace when they are confined by a language barrier. My mother’s generation was in their homeland long enough to remember, but immigrated to the U.S. early enough to cleave away the clarity of those memories. Having a dual identity, my mother and her siblings were able to retain parts of their old culture, while adapting to American culture. Leading to my generation, a rift formed. The U.S. is all we have ever known, and we must rely on our elders to pass down their breadth of knowledge onto us. One drawback of this is language. I am conversationally fluent in Mandarin, but sometimes, this level of language is insufficient to understand the deeper words that the older generations have no way of translating. Weak language retention is one very prominent reason that memories are washed away throughout the decades: English doesn’t always do justice for the stories of immigrants. Another is that the value of certain memories is subjective among people. My knowledge of the past is limited to whatever my grandparents or mother choose to filter out and give to me. This leaves first generation immigrants little option but to assimilate to a culture they do know, and the loss of those precious past recollections.

So where does this leave the generations that have been disconnected from their ethnic lands? To an extent, assimilation is needed to unite people. But the differences that arise from our memories is just as worthy of a contribution to society. In The Melting Pot, David and Vera were eager to forget in the hopes of a brighter future. In my life, I struggle to remember, but cannot quite grasp what I am missing. While there is no perfect solution to shielding our individual identities from the forces of the status quo, raising awareness is a step in the right direction. Finding an equilibrium between retaining the old and receiving the new is essential for the creation of an identity that is uniquely you. There is so little in life that cannot be taken from humans, memories being one of them. Everyone should learn to treasure the memories they create, and share them. Building this feedback loop of memories will generate stories to last a lifetime, stories that everyone can learn from. After all, “the best thing about memories is making them” (unknown).

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” - Dr. Seuss

(Photo) Diversity and inclusion by: Kurter - Everyone's "piece" is important to putting together a puzzle (an analogy to the world and people). When different people come together to solve an issue, perspectives of different kinds bloom to form a complete answer.

Video Synopsis

Bibliography

Zangwill, Israel. The Melting-Pot: Drama in Four Acts. Macmillan, 1914.

Schechner, Richard. Performance Studies: an Introduction. Routledge, 2013.

Donnella, Leah. “'Racial Impostor Syndrome': Here Are Your Stories.” NPR, NPR, 8 June 2017, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/06/08/462395722/racial-impostor-syndrome-here-are-your-stories [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].

Cherry, Kendra. “Take a Deeper Look Into Human Memory.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 16 Aug. 2019, https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-memory-2795006 [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].

Clark, Nicole, and Lia Kantrowitz. “The Hidden Stress of Growing Up a Child of Immigrants.” Vice, 12 Sept. 2019, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/43kgzn/the-hidden-stress-of-growing-up-a-child-of-immigrants-v26n3 [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].

Weissbourd, Richard. “Why Do Immigrant Children Struggle More Than Their Parents Did?” The New Republic, 25 Feb. 2002, https://newrepublic.com/article/120352/why-americanization-makes-immigrant-children-less-successful [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].

Zangwill, Israel. “Wikipedia.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 19 Sept. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Melting_Pot_(play) [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].

Starcross. Wikimedia Commons, 23 Aug. 2012, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Starcross.svg [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].

Bennett, C. (2019). The Great American Melting Pot. [image] Available at: https://twitter.com/bennettcartoons/status/1095319864888176640 [Accessed 10 Nov. 2019].

Colbert, C. (2015). Christian and Jewish Origins. [image] Available at: https://messianicpublications.com/christine-colbert/christianity-vs-judaism-a-false-dichotomy/ [Accessed 13 Nov. 2019].

Kurter, H. (2019). Diversity and Inclusion. [image] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/heidilynnekurter/2019/06/23/2-simple-ways-to-cultivate-a-culture-of-diversity-and-inclusion-through-self-expression/#46ebbc0310af [Accessed 13 Nov. 2019].

Ahmed, Z. (2014). Impersonal Assimilation and Personal Loss. [image] Available at: https://mosaicsjsu.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/impersonal-assimilation-and-personal-loss/ [Accessed 13 Nov. 2019].

(Bibliography Photo) Books by Susan Yin on (Find Free Photos) - I thought it was a suitable picture for a bibliography and my topic, there is a wealth of knowledge for us to discover, outside the world and within ourselves.

Created By
Jocelyn Wang
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Credits:

Created with images by Fabian Fauth - "On the edge of Liberty" • Susan Yin - "untitled image"