The Mountain Times

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Turn up the heat under the melting pot

I know I sometimes have a weird sense of humor. Incidents occur and I simply see them from a crooked viewpoint. For instance, I found irony in the death of Jean Stapleton within weeks after the publicized Garcia versus Woods feud after the supposedly derogatory fried chicken reference.

I doubt there is a Boomer out there who doesn't associate Jean Stapleton with Edith Bunker, the character she played on All in the Family for eight years in the 70's. Edith was married to Archie, the world's most lovable bigot. Archie's politically incorrect comments were not spewed with venom; they dribbled out of his head among a sea of ignorance. The result - we laughed instead of cringed. Truth be told, Archie would have given the shirt off his back to his Afro-American neighbor George Jefferson. And as much as Archie made fun of his son-in-law's Polish heritage, he didn't hesitate to put a roof over his head and dinner in his belly every night. When Archie's grandson Joey was born, he loved every living cell of him. His nationality simply was not a factor.
Did we shoot ourselves in the foot in our modern-day attempts to climb the PC ladder?

I grew up on a street that was its own mini-melting pot. At one end of the block lived the Chu's.  I actually never stepped foot in their house, but it had nothing to do with the fact they were Chinese. They just didn't have any kids my age. The Chu's were often a topic of conversation in the neighborhood, but again, it had nothing to do with their Asian ethnicity. It was about the mystery surrounding the demise of their chain link fence which we discovered years later was mowed down by my older sister while learning to drive.

At the opposite end of the street lived the Gonzales family. They had a daughter, Rachel, and a son, Charlie. I spent many afternoons with Rachel and often her parents invited me to stay for dinner when they got home from work. Rachel's grandmother lived with the family and she prepared dinner. More often than not, it included rice and beans. I didn't see this as a stereotype. At age ten, I didn't even understand the concept of a stereotype. I knew that eating rice and beans was a part of the Gonzales family's heritage, similar to the meatloaf served at my house.

Across the street from the Gonzales family lived the Tucci's. Every Sunday, the smell of Nettie's sauce wafted into the street while we played kickball or whiffle ball. Nobody thought anything of it. Seems every Italian family in our neighborhood had a tradition of having homemade sauce and macaroni on Sunday. Nobody made fun of the tradition. In fact, you would give your eye teeth to be invited to a Sunday dinner at the Tucci's!

The Goss family lived next door to me. They had five children and a stay-at-home mom. I shared many a dinner with them, often macaroni and cheese and spam. When you had to feed five children on one salary, meals were comprised of items that could be purchased economically in bulk. I can still picture two or three gallon containers of milk in their refrigerator at one time. We were a single-quart-at-a-time household, so their refrigerator amazed me.

My heritage is Irish and German. Yep, my mom could make a mean corned beef and cabbage dinner. Potatoes were a staple of any meal. We sometimes said "Gesundheit" if someone sneezed.

We all lived on the block in harmony. We didn't see each other as a nationality; we saw each other as neighbors. The Tucci's weren't referred to as the Italian family, they were known as the people with the best lawn. The Gonzales family wasn't referred to as a Latino family, they were known as the hard-working couple who both had jobs at the hospital. The Van Cott's weren't seen as a German family, they were known as the ones who piled all the neighborhood kids into their station wagon and took them to the drive-in movies. I couldn't even tell you the nationality of my closest friends back then, except I remember Georgia was Greek because her dad spoke the language and her sister's name was Aphrodite. But we didn't care, we just enjoyed hanging out together.

Have we become too hung up on being PC? Why is it now considered ethnic profiling if we point out an association between nationality and culture? Would Garcia have been equally insulted if Tiger said he would serve him enchiladas and burritos?
Maybe we need to turn up the heat under our melting pot. Maybe it's time to bring the stew to a rolling boil, letting all the flavors mix and marry. Maybe it's time to just be friends and neighbors on the block again, devoid of labels and profiling. Heck, maybe we all need to sit down to a pot luck dinner after a rousing game of kickball. I live in the south now, so I can bring the fried chicken.

Cindy Phillips is a columnist for The Mountain Times. She can be reached directly at cphillipsauthor@yahoo.com