It’s hard to believe, but today marks my sixth American Thanksgiving as an expat in Canada. While I was in school, I was far too consumed with end-of-term exam preparations and long nights writing papers to give the holiday much thought, but now that I’m graduated and off in that bizarre mobius strip that is the “real” world, I have a little more mental energy left to expend on the whole concept of Thanksgiving and my own complicated relationship with the celebration.
Growing up, I always had mixed feelings about the holiday. Sure, I loved the opportunity to get together with my extended family and I’ve always been fond of stuffing my face. I definitely appreciated the four-day weekend. I liked other things too: watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade with its ridiculous floats and mind-numbing commentary; pretending to enjoy football alongside my dad and uncles in my grandparents’ den after dinner; catching the first holiday screenings of Home Alone (which, during the ’90s, was a network television staple of Thanksgiving Day) and blindly absorbing the first seasonal inundations of commercial “must-have” toy propaganda. In a partial food coma, I would begin mentally crafting my holiday wish lists as little Kevin McCallister outfoxed Joe Pesci and the narrator from The Wonder Years.
Just one big, happy family? Yeah, that didn't last too long. (img courtesy of http://angryindian.blogspot.com)
I also dug the glass-half-full Eurocentric holiday narrative that, despite my largely progressive public Montessori education, I was still fed. (Somewhere in my parents’ Milwaukee home there exists photographic evidence of a cringe-inducing “Thanksgiving play,” penned by a seven-year-old me, in which my blond haired, blue eyed younger cousins were enlisted to play the rosy-cheeked pilgrims against the dark haired, dark eyed “Indians” that were my brothers and I.) The heartwarming fairytale of those “nice,” “simple” Indians who were so kind as to share their harvest with the industrious but unprepared pilgrims really spoke to me, and to the principles of humility and generosity I’d been taught to value within my Catholic upbringing. The only person in my life to really challenge this starry-eyed narrative was, oddly enough, my mother.
My mother is not always the most politically correct person in the world. She doesn’t try to be. She says what’s on her mind, and the results are often hilarious. Anyway, my mother was the first person, in the early-mid ’90s, to tell me anything contrary to Thanksgiving story I was being told at school. “The pilgrims were thieves,” she said, casually, when I told her the version I’d been given. “They were the bad guys.”
My mother also routinely shit-talked Christopher Columbus, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised. But, coming from a family where the word of Teacher rivaled that of God, I was skeptical about this one. My beloved Ms. Allison had told a story where there were no bad guys, and furthermore, isn’t teacher always right?
Mama broke it down. She said the pilgrims might have been nice to the Native Americans at first out of necessity, but once they were able to figure out how to survive on their own they became consumed by greed and imperialistic notions of entitlement, at the expense of indigenous lives, lands, and cultures. Of course, being that I was an elementary schooler, this alternative history was probably boiled down to a few choice words and an eyeroll, but it left a lasting impact. My Salvadoran immigrant mother, perhaps unknowingly, gave me my first lesson in anti-Colonial discourse. She also, unwittingly, taught me that the teacher isn’t always right (a sentiment that I may have taken a little too far throughout most of high school, but whatevs).
Anyway, I write this fully knowing that I am going to be partaking in a huge and elaborate Thanksgiving feast later this evening. I still had a full day of work today, and I’ll have another tomorrow. It doesn’t particularly feel like a holiday, or anything other than an excuse to experience the kind of gluttony that only a fraction of the earth’s population would be privileged enough to enjoy. But, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thankful, because truly, I am.