My daughter is taking part in her school play “Schoolhouse Rock”. One of the songs that she is learning is “The Great American Melting Pot”. The song is about how people from Russia and Italy were inspired by “Lady Liberty” and her book of recipes to come to America where “life might let them win”. The Great Melting Pot speaks of the thing that makes America great. Immigration. The song says that America was “founded by the British but also by the Germans, Dutch and French”. We often say in Ireland how it was the Irish that built America while it was the Chinese that laid the railroads. It is this diversity, the melting pot, that makes America great.
The US is still a melting pot, and I often think that the Bay Area is how the world could be- people from every country in the world working and living together. Living in this melting pot has not lessened my sense of Irishness. In fact, I probably get even more emotional about Rathvilly and Carlow GAA than I did when I was at home. But I gain so much from meeting people and hearing different perspectives from all around the world.
On Monday evening, I got talking to an older gentleman who had also emigrated to the US. He had arrived here from Ukraine and was here fourteen years. We were at swim practise for my daughter and his granddaughter. Despite both of us having strong accents, that some people might find difficult to understand, we were soon chatting away.
My new friend had grown up in the Soviet Union. He told me about his experience of life under communism. As a child, his great hero was Pavlik Morozov. I was unfamiliar with this name. He told me the story. Pavlik was a young boy in the Soviet Union who had reported his own father for crimes against the Soviet Union. Pavlik’s father was sentenced to ten years of hard labour. However, Pavlik Morozov became a martyr for all young boys in the Soviet Union when his family killed him for reporting his father. My friend continued “he was our hero. We all looked up to him and wanted to be like him”. He paused “It was all Lies!” he exclaimed. I could see how much that episode had messed with his head. However, he smiled and remarked on how easy it is to be manipulated.
It is moments like this conversation that demonstrate the greatness of the melting pot that is California. Here was an Irish man and a Ukrainian watching our young people swim on the same team together while we chatted about politics, soccer and how to say hello in different languages. The conversation lasted around 40-45 minutes. It was both fascinating and mind-opening. Welcome to the Californian melting pot.