In his Feb. 5 column, Abdi Nor Iftin, supporting Maine’s increasingly diverse student population, said, “The schools should encourage multiculturalism and not assimilation.” He said assimilation involves expecting students to “abandon their cultural institutions and values and replace them with that of the majority.”

That happened, forcibly, to many Native American children many years ago. I doubt today’s Maine schools expect or require children to abandon their culture, nor should they.

My only experience with assimilation is as a third-generation Italian whose grandfather came here as a 12-year-old around 1900. My father, born here, spoke only Italian until he entered kindergarten at Portland’s old Presumpscot School. He learned English, graduated from Portland High School, fought in WWII and assimilated (which is easier when you pretty much look like the dominant caste).

He continued to speak Italian his whole life, retaining much of the culture and religion of his youth even as he blended into the existing culture. Most of my life I thought that one of America’s strengths was its ability to be a melting pot and the willingness of new arrivals to “melt.”

I am proud to be the mongrel son of an Italian father and a Scotch/Irish/English/Welsh/German mother. That provided strengths I might not have if my father married an Italian girl instead of the “WASP” next door.

Can’t assimilation mean incorporating many cultures and races? Wouldn’t America be a stronger country if we could mix all of our races and cultures into a lumpy, multicultural “stew” rather than either a mono-cultural “smoothie” or a bowl of separate, distinct chunks of dry meat?

Michael Fasulo
South Portland