Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Our Way

            I like that we have a national holiday named Thanksgiving that celebrates thanksgiving in all its various understandings.

            I don’t like that the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is built upon a historical fiction that portrays American history from a racist, dominant culture viewpoint.

            I don’t like that the Thanksgiving holiday brings up so much pain for my Native American relations.

            I don’t like that the Thanksgiving holiday brings up the wretchedness of assimilation as a dominant culture value and the pain that has been wrought on so many of my immigrant relations.

            When I was a child, my father told us the story of his little sister.

            One Monday after Thanksgiving in the 1930’s in Chinatown, New York City, my teenaged father’s little sister came home from public school, devastated.

            The very nice teacher had innocently asked the children in her classroom, “Did you enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey dinner? Did you have pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce?”

            Dad’s little sister didn’t know how to answer the teacher’s question, but it seemed obvious to her that the teacher and the other students had an expectation that everyone would have had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. After all, that was the American way, and there was even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to promote that American way.

            How could Dad’s little sister answer, “No”? How could she explain to a whole classroom of other impressionable children that her Chinese immigrant family, living in the ghetto known as Chinatown, didn’t observe the mainstream holiday of Thanksgiving with all the fixings? How could she explain that turkey is not a traditional Chinese poultry choice and that goose or duck is preferable?

            My father learned a lesson from that long ago Thanksgiving. He vowed that when he had children, they would have turkey and all the fixings every Thanksgiving . . . whether they preferred it or not. He was determined not to allow his own children ever to be singled-out and humiliated like his little sister. Dad had internalized the lesson.

            And so, growing up in our family home, with our mother who grew up in China, we had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie every year on Thanksgiving day. We also watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or went to downtown Detroit for the Hudson’s Department Store’s Thanksgiving Day parade. All the while, my brothers and I secretly yearned for the roast goose or roast duck that Mom might have cooked with roasted yams or taro.

            My father had internalized a meme from the dominant culture, the meme of Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings, and up until the last several years, my generation, too, had internalized that meme and labored to provide a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings every year. This is an example of internalized oppression, when people outside the dominant culture internalize cultural memes that they then pass on to future generations that continue to impose values such as assimilation that devalue one’s own culture and cultural preferences.

            This Thanksgiving, we celebrated a day early, by gathering over a restaurant meal of Chinese dim sum, and then brought enough leftovers home to continue to celebrate our household family of my husband, my mother, my brother, and me, being together at home for this entire weekend. We celebrated Thanksgiving without the assimilation.

            Happy Thanksgiving, my friends and relations, however you choose to make it a meaningful day of giving thanks. And while we’re at it, let’s also offer up a prayer and a thought for all those who don’t have loving families around them and who are suffering from loneliness, sickness, war and conflict, or any kind of trouble. 
Peace, Shalom, La Paz


Ann said...

Such a sad story -- and I have been surprised at how many have made fun of our vegetarian family gathering this year.



I appreciate your understanding, and I applaud your family's vegetarian family gathering, even though we're not vegetarians. I think one of my great thanksgivings is for my father and his ability to teach even as he was also caught up in his own story. I imagine my kids will say something similar about me after I'm gone. I suspect that's part of the human condition, and we can't help ourselves even when we try really hard to be conscious and conscientious.

Muthah+ said...

Lelanda, I so appreciated the story of your father and his making sure that you experienced an "American Thanksgiving." I have always be a bit uncomfortable with Thanksgiving because it has a tendency to make far too many assumptions about family, about eating, about all kinds of traditions that can be hurtful. But a young man at the physical therapy place where I was doing PT yesterday was bemoaning that Madison Ave. has hi-jacked even Thanksgiving by making it the day before Black Friday. I am boycotting Black Friday as a gesture of my rebellion against Madison Ave.



Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I, too, am staying home on Black Friday and its encroachment on Thanksgiving Thursday. At this time in my life, I feel like I've consumed as much as I'm capable of, and I'm trying to unlearn the American pastime known as "recreational shopping," which is truly countercultural in the U.S. today.