Claudia San Pedro ’91 spent her teen years drinking cherry limeade and eating cheese Tots at her local Sonic drive-in. Now she’s president of the company, leading one of the nation’s most popular—and nostalgic—fast-food franchises back to the future.
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Lori Tharps ’94: “My American Meltingpot”
Lori Tharps ’94 lends her unique voice to discussions of race and pop culture in a new podcast.
In 2006, journalist and author Lori Tharps ’94 launched the blog My American Meltingpot as a way to explore issues of race and multiculturalism. The topics hit home personally and professionally. Tharps is married to a Spaniard and is raising three multiracial children. Currently a journalism professor at Temple University, Tharps is also the award-winning author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and, most recently, Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families. Blogging, she says, gave her an outlet to write stories about race and cultural intersection that weren’t being covered in mainstream media.
Busy juggling a career and family, Tharps at one point almost pulled the plug on the blog, but her husband convinced her to at least keep it online. After the 2016 presidential election, she was glad she did. Once again, her need for an outlet was stronger than ever. “I tried a lot of things for activism, but it always came back to writing for me,” says Tharps. “I decided to revise the Meltingpot and make it a resource for people who believe that America’s power comes from the diversity of its citizens working together.”
Tharps’ idea of her blog as a resource is wide-ranging—from providing recommendations for a good children’s book with a Pakistani main character to podcasts that talk about life in another country from a black person’s perspective. “I want the Meltingpot to be a brand that signifies the resource for inspiration and information about all things diversity in the United States,” she says.
The topics for the My American Meltingpot podcast are also varied. In the podcast’s first season, Tharps and featured guests have delved into racist technology, Korean pop music, Black hair and the “one drop rule”—all with an entertaining flair. “I don’t want to trivialize what I’m doing, but I also want people to understand that it isn’t all doom and gloom,” Tharps says. “Talking about race and pop culture can be fun and exciting and doesn’t have to make people uncomfortable or scared.”
Tharps credits her Smith experience for revealing a world where people from different cultures can share and learn from one another. “I had friends who were Korean American, Indian, Thai, Jamaican,” she says. “From my first year at Smith, I was on a mission to show that there are many ways people connect. I thought everybody learned this in college, but it turns out they don’t.”
Though working on the podcast alone could easily be a full-time job, Tharps believes the mission of My American Meltingpot is well worth the effort. “I think that I have an important message to share with the world, particularly in the United States,” she says. “And I want these stories to help shape the public conversation about race and diversity in popular culture.”
For the immediate future, her focus is on building her audience. “I’m creating this content to change the world,” she says, “and you can’t change the world unless people are listening.”