Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Very Indian Thanksgiving, and the many thoughts surrounding it

Thanksgiving cracks me up. The myriad of "official" stories of that first celebratory harvest meal between what would soon be warring peoples. The way that it is so "American" and we all join in and are granted vacation time and eat too much, and then go the gym as if we're going to counteract the calorie count of 4 pies. The cliche of the Pilgrims and the "Indians" is especially funny to me, as my first Thanksgiving with real Indians involved a masala turkey prepped by Ben's uncle.

I cried a lot that year. I was engaged to marry Ben, and this was the first real holiday I was celebrating with his family instead of mine, and the it all seemed monumental, final, and foreign. What was lost on me was the spirit of the first meal between "Indian" and white man - coming together in differences (well, in that case, before we steal your land in the name of freedom and a pioneering spirit).

To be honest, I cry sometimes still. It's been 10 years since I've been in this family - a rich, wonderful 10 years of multi-cultural living. It's beautiful and interesting. But, it's hard. It's hard to understand things that you aren't born understanding. And, so much of what we know, we were somehow born knowing. It's in our blood, our genes, our origins, and it shapes everything.

But, this is of course, what makes it worth being thankful for - the things that are not easy. The things we can reflect back on, and say like the writer of my favorite old hymn, "Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come..."*

A Very Indian Thanksgiving has its very entertaining moments. Here are a few from this year:

Simon's pre-school teacher loves the Thanksgiving feast where the Penguins and the Bumblebees come together to eat food that the mamas prepare (or in my case, shamelessly bring in the Trader Joe's packaging). The little Bumblebees are the Pilgrims, and the Penguins (Simon's class) are the "Indians." I was shocked to hear that they still call them Indians - mostly, because that's an inaccuracy white people made centuries ago that you'd think we would have corrected by now.

Anyway, in a pre-schoolyear meeting, I helpfully pointed out that my son is an *actual* Indian who we're trying to help have a healthy understanding of his race and culture, and it might be confusing to tell him that Indians lived in America, wore feathers, and had names like Running Bull.

While I'm sure she found my advice very useful, the Indian festivities continued. I learned that all the kids were given Indian names (I'm pretty sure my son received his four years ago), and when I may have made an issue out of this, I learned that Simon was the Chief Indian. Being the proud mother that I am, I basked in his superiority and decided not to make an issue out of things. Maybe next year.

Now, we're in New York. Last night, we went to church with Ben's parents. They go to a small Indian church that is attended largely by our cousins. Ben is always asked to preach, leaving me sitting alone on the men's side with two crazy kids who are up two hours past their bedtime. Talya was literally rolling around in the center aisle (that red carpeting just looked too fun for her to pass up) while her Daddy preached on Thankfulness, and it just seemed so anti-sentimal for me to cause a temper tantrum at that very moment.

It is a strange and wonderful thing gathering with the real Indians as we celebrate the first meal with the mistaken Indians. It is strange and wonderful because these people are immigrants to this rich country, strangers in the land, just as the pilgrims were. (These immigrants are more gracious,  less give me your land or else).

It is strange and wonderful to celebrate with people who are thankful for the kinds of things the original party-goers were thankful for: God's protection in a strange place, opportunity, going through the hard times to give your kids the good times.

During the pastor's opening remarks, he couldn't remember what year the Pilgrims first came to America. There was a short back-and-forth between him and the congregants.... 1776? No, that was independence. 1492? No, that was Columbus. I laughed because of course they wouldn't know - this is not the kind of thing taught in schools in India. I laughed because I didn't know the answer, and I had a relative or two on the Mayflower.

After churh, we ate a catered turkey dinner in the too-warm basement of the church. To be honest, I was hot, hungry, tired, stressed from keeping Taly away from the platters of hot food, hurried to get to the city to see the Macy's balloons... but thankful. So, so thankful.

*real English translation is supposedly something like this: "Today I commemorate how far You have brought me."


Kirsten said...

"But, it's hard. It's hard to understand things that you aren't born understanding. And, so much of what we know, we were somehow born knowing. It's in our blood, our genes, our origins, and it shapes everything." -- So, so very true!! It's like you took the thoughts right out of my head.

Happy Thanksgiving to you my friend.

Stephanie N. said...

Love this.