When I was in New Zealand completing my student teaching, I was away from my family for the first time on Thanksgiving. When my host family found out about the holiday, they decided to create a Thanksgiving dinner.
Spending Thanksgiving Day in school seemed strange, but that evening, my host family, some friends I’d met, their Nana and I gorged on turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, veggies and the New Zealand dessert Pavlova. There was no football on TV, and instead of a fall chill, the warmer nights of spring lingered in the air. But it felt the same as we sat at the large dining room table and ate our feast. I was so thankful for their acceptance and enthusiasm—it took the sting out of being away from my family.
Here in the States, I realize that in many ways Thanksgiving is a controversial day, not just for those who might struggle to spend an entire day with family members, but also for the ties the holiday has with the past. (One of my former college professors used to call it “Kill the Indians Day!”). I don’t want to erase or create Manifest Manners around the genocide that occurred and the racism and oppression that people still endure.
When I explain the holiday to my newcomer class, I start with the good story first: the Indians helping the Pilgrims survive and the dinner they created together to celebrate the harvest. I always feel like I’m lying by omission if I don’t go on to explain the unnecessary buffalo killings, small-pox-laced blankets, and the forced removal to reservations that continues the story.
But living here in New Mexico, we’re able to see that tribal life goes on through the exposure of Native people in schools, in stores, and on advertisements. We can see Native people cheering for the Lobos, driving cars, and eating tacos at the Frontier—in essence just living life. We’re also fortunate to have several Native American friends, as well. I’m glad we have these experiences because in other parts of the country the attempt to erase Native people from history, from existence continues.
I wish, like many things, that the celebration could be simple and that giving thanks to those you love would be as pure as the intentions of a child. Take the other night, while I was putting the boys to bed. Without prompting, Joaquín said, “Mom, I’m thankful for you!”
Javi chimed in, “I’m thankful for Mama and Papí, too.”
“Yeah, me too,” Joaquín added.
What are you thankful for?