Counterpoint: Searching for the American metaphor, the discussion continues

  • Updated: July 11, 2013 - 6:32 PM
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Instead of melting pot, what about booya?

Photo: Joey McLeister, Star Tribune file

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A recent commentary, letters and online comments discussing a unifying American metaphor (“Beyond the melting pot,” June 30) were timely and provocative. Every metaphor offered — melting pot, tossed salad, chocolate fondue — conveys an ensemble of images, guiding us toward differing visions of what America is, or should be. But every metaphor has boundaries limiting its relevance and distorting our vision.

I want to call attention to one of the hidden exclusions in these metaphors. Native American nations are absent. Forgetting that tribes are quasi-independent sovereign nations, the typical rebuttal is that Native Americans comprise one of the ingredients in the amalgam, salad or fondue. But the fusing, mixing or coating of disparate identities in the pot, bowl or kettle reflects a hegemonic, colonizing perspective, subsuming indigenous peoples.

In the spirit of culinary inclusiveness, I offer a sampling of indigenous-flavored metaphors, redolent of pre-Columbian, primal “American” culture:

• “Wild Rice Booya”: Tastefully mixes local, global and native ingredients in a celebratory but impudent mélange. Has the added advantage of the double meaning of “Booya,” a streetwise exclamation defined by the Urban Dictionary as “ ’Bam!’ ‘In your face’ and ‘Hell yeah,’ all at the same time” — an interjection of empowerment, oppositional glee and “Eat this, sucka!”

• “Sufferin’ Succotash”: A discriminating (not to mention antidiscriminatory) restaurant whose first-nation dishes highlight a potent Native American base (“the predominant flavor upon which all other flavors are layered”) featuring a condensed, generations-long reduction with a long-lasting, rightly bitter aftertaste. Reservations not required.

• “Holy Mole”: A variously hued dark-light-black-yellow-brown-red sauce that fuses saucy missionary zealotry with colonialist spices and local, indigenous ingredients.

As all these tongue-(and food)-in-cheek metaphors demonstrate, no metaphor is wholly inclusive. All contested American tropes are necessarily incomplete, unable to exhaust our endlessly shifting, complex, contested, heterogeneous culture.

Perhaps a better culinary metaphor might be a “free-for-all food fight.”

Gordon Nakagawa, White Bear Lake

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