Thanksgiving is a holiday that always fills me with mixed feelings. Gratitude is wonderful, and getting together with family and friends can be a blessing. But I know that the stories we celebrate are white-washed versions of a history that has brought devastation to so many. I always remember that many Indigenous people call this the Day of Mourning.
The only time that foreign immigrants actually brought disease and destruction to this continent was when the English, Spanish, and French came to settle on its shores. Millions of Indigenous peoples died from diseases to which they had no resistance, or were killed in ongoing campaigns by the newcomers to destroy them and their way of life.
So while I give many thanks for my life, it feels sacrilegious to give thanks for prosperity that was built on the suffering and death of so many others. But it does illuminate for me, in a social psychological way, the possible roots of our American fear and hatred of foreign immigrants. I wonder if perhaps these feelings are a form of projection from this unacknowledged shadow side of American history. People imagine that new immigrants will bring destruction because the first settlers were the immigrants who did bring destruction.
This fear of the foreigner never proved realistic with later immigrants—with the Irish, the Italian, the Chinese, the German, the Jewish, the Puerto Rican, and so many others. Despite being hated and derided, they eventually became a part of the fabric of American life. Perhaps there is a link between facing more honestly our own shadowed and genocidal history, and letting go of our fear of the other.
Hard thoughts for a quiet holiday at home. But so many are cold and hungry and desperately seeking a safe harbor. And the tide of xenophobia and racism in our country seems to be rising out of control. Let’s help our friends and neighbors to keep their heads about them. I believe that when we are lucky enough to have shelter and food and clothing and safety, we are responsible for sharing what we can with those who are in need. To me, that is what thanksgiving should be all about.