In 2002, I came to the U.S. as a visiting scholar at Reed College, Portland, OR. Before that, I had been teaching international students for 6 years in China, and had some knowledge about western cultures and cross-cultural communications. I thought I was well-prepared for the year ahead, until......
A month after my arrival at Reed, there was a "Progressive Dinner" across the five language houses on the campus (French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Chinese). Residents of each language house would serve traditional and culturally representative food for the visitors. As the only native Chinese in the Chinese house, I decided to make something plain and authentic. One of the things I made was jellyfish salad, which was an ordinary and inexpensive appetizer in China. I didn't expected jellyfish salad to make a critical incident in my multicultural experience----most of the college students were shocked at hearing the word "jellyfish", and refused to have a taste. Some of my friends did try a little bit, out of the intention not to hurt my feelings, but they also teased my jellyfish salad in light-hearted banter.
Jellyfish salad taught me "When in Rome, eat what Romans eat", and it was risky to try to keep your original cultural traits in the United States, the "melting pot", in which immigrants were encouraged to discard their original identity and assimilate to the dominant culture.
Almost a decade passed. On today's class, when we were discussing the critical incidents in multicultural experience, I thought of my jellyfish salad again. All of a sudden, I had this curiosity, "Have people in today's United States started to accept it?" I tried googling "jellyfish salad", to my surprise, I found quite a number of records, including pictures and recipes. Looks like there are more people interested in eating jellyfish salad in the U.S. than 9 years ago. Is it an outcome of multiculturalism, or is it in light of the widespread internet, or both?
When doing research for our group project on "ethnicity and race", I encountered the term "mosaic" several times in different locations. In recent studies and publications, the terminology "melting pot" has been gradually replaced by "mosaic". As a conceptualization of culture diversity in today's United States, the "mosaic" model provides people of different backgrounds with equal opportunities to fit together without having to lose their original identities. I am asking myself, "Is mosaic related to jellyfish salad?"
Jellyfish salad, melting pot, and mosaic. These are what I learned today.