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Melting Pot

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

One of the first things we learn about America in grade school is that we are a melting pot. "Here," a French observer of the new America wrote just after the Revolution, "individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men." The pot in "melting pot" came from a 19th century play in which immigrants in their native costumes came on stage, passed behind a huge foundry cauldron for melting iron, and emerged on the other side dressed in blue coveralls carrying lunch buckets, and, of course, all speaking English.

Try telling a Rock Islander that he's melted, and he's apt to disagree. More than most communities our size, we have kept hold of our roots: the foods, customs, games, the language, the celebrations and religions that our grandparents brought with them from Belgium, Africa, Sweden, Mexico, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Poland, Vietnam. Three generations later, the local Belgian community still races pigeons, makes lace, plays picks in neighborhood bars. In several local restaurants, English is still a second language.

From the air, the Rock Island area's twenty-seven communities appear like a patchwork quilt. It's not just appearance: we Islanders are a patchwork quilt, rather than a melting pot, pieces of all cultures stitched together.

As in a quilt, we can trace our history in the separate patches. That black velvet was Aunt Emma's favorite dress; there's grandpa's fancy shirt; look, here's a piece of Alice's first school dress. We can do the same thing: that barn is Dutch, that dance is from Mexico, that lace is Belgian.

We live in a rich, un-melted life, here in the Mississippi River valley. At a Longfellow School PTA potluck a while back, we had a choice of tacos, sweet potato pie, meatballs, pizelles, Greek salad, and German potatoes.

Would it really have been more American to put all these items in a huge blender and turn them into a grey meatloaf—or better yet, just gone for catering by Kentucky Fried Chicken in the first place?

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.