Dear Whoever’s In Charge,
I would like to discuss the awkward position in which you have placed me as an educator and scholar of American ethnic literature. Specifically, I would like to know whose idea it was to adopt the term “tossed salad” to describe a certain recreational activity, and why you allowed this coinage to catch on. This was a bad decision for several reasons. First of all, it doesn’t make any sense. That particular phenomenon in no way resembles a “tossed salad” from any possible perspective. A tossed salad is leafy and crisp and doused in vinaigrette or possibly ranch dressing. Sometimes you find a cherry tomato or a crouton. The so-called “tossed salad” involves none of these things. Or maybe it does, and I’m aging myself by not being able to imagine how this is possible. If that is the case, I prefer to be ignorant.
Okay, I can imagine how vinaigrette or possibly ranch dressing might be involved, but like I said, I’d really rather not.
Secondly, and more importantly for my professional purposes, by allowing this term currency in the contemporary American lexicon, you have enabled the occurrance of such scenes as the following in my daily life.
Setting: My Asian American Literature class
[The class is discussing R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s, which, incidentally, is a totally fantastic book that everyone should read. A student refers to a moment in the text that counters the image of America as a “melting pot” with the image of Hawai’i as a “volcano.” I move to the chalkboard to offer a visual representation of how the volcano inverts and upsets the melting pot.]
Me: Now, you may recall that earlier in the semester we discussed the concept of the “melting pot” as a model of American diversity, and some of the critiques of that model.
Students: [Blank, somewhat sleepy stares.]
Me: For example, some proponents of multiculturalism in the late 20th century suggested that America was less of a “melting pot” than a “tossed salad.” Which, unfortunately, is also the term for a certain other thing, which is dirty, so I won’t explicate. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
Students: [Big, wide-eyed, very awake stares.]
Me: What? You do know what a “tossed salad” is, right?
Students: [A few weak, frightened nods. Mostly more staring.]
Me: Good, because I’m not going to tell you. That’s not my job.
Student: Is this really happening?
Me: Apparently it is. Look, I just want you to know that I know what is coming out of my mouth. It’s not my fault. Now, back to the issue. First there was the “melting pot,” then then there was the “tossed salad.”
Student: You’re not going to draw that, are you?
So no, it’s not my fault, it’s your fault that this is the kind of thing that happens to me when I’m simply trying to educate the youth. And, frankly, I would like to know how you’re going to make it up to me.
Thank you for your time.