Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanks-Taking

In the recent political ads, the issue of illegal immigration is a hot-button issue that creates tense divisions among and within parties. Yet, we often get so caught up in the debate, that most of us, especially conservatives, forget the history of this nation was founded on people trying enter a land through illicit means. Instead, we see this event as a celebration – Thanksgiving. Why do we not scapegoat and criminalize this group of illegal immigrants (Pilgrims) but continue to terrorize others? It all comes down to who writes our history books.

In fourth grade, I remember how we spent Thanksgiving week making construction paper costumes of pilgrims and Indians. At the end of the week, we all donned our feathers and helmets and recreated the thanksgiving feast of goodwill and solidarity. My teacher always stressed how it was through working together that our “founding” fathers to this nation were able to survive. I never knew why we picked Nov. 25th as the official Thanksgiving holiday, but after some reading I found out that Nov. 25th goes much further back in time than when the Pilgrims landed by Plymouth Rock. It was during the late 15th century when Spain, on Nov. 25 1491, defeated the last Muslim country. On this day, the Pope declared this day to be forever a day of Thanksgiving for all European Christians.

Rap artist Rass Kass in “Nature of the Threat” speaks of this alternative history of Thanksgiving in his song “Nature of Threat:”

“On November 25th, 1491
Santiago defeats the last Muslim stronghold, Grenada
King Ferdinand gave thanks to God for victory
And the Pope of Rome and declared this date to forever be
A day of "Thanksgiving" for all European Christians

.. Now listen, when you celebrate "Thanksgiving"

What you are actually celebratin
is the proclamation of the Pope of Rome
Who later, in league with Queen Isabella
sent Cardinal Ximenos to Spain
to murder any blacks that resisted Christianity
These Moors, these black men and women
were from Baghdad, Turkey
And today, you eat the turkey, for your "Thanksgiving" day
as the European Powers destroyed the Turkeys
Who were the forefathers of your mothers and fathers
Now fight the power…”

Through this spoken word, Ras Kass reclaims part of our nation’s history that is portrayed in an often fairytale, and biased way in our history books. It frustrates me to have to re-learn so many parts of my social studies lessons when I come to Cal. Why can’t my teachers and history books present history through a more critical and honest approach instead of glorifying the “battles” won by our founding fathers? It leads to tense situations now, where most citizens do not realize their role in history and allow events such as colonialism, illegal immigration to repeat.

The roots of America’s Thanksgiving focus on 1637 when 700 men, women, and children of the Pequot Tribe, gathered for their “Annual Green Corn Dance” in what is now known as Connecticut. In the early morning, they were surrounded and attacked by English and Dutch mercenaries, resulting in the deaths of 700 Pequot men, women and children. The next day, the Governor of Massachusetts declared a day of Thanksgiving for the “battle” being won. Today, we hardly hear/see any press coverage that recognizes the solemnity of the day from a human rights perspective. Instead, it’s mostly about Black Friday Shopping sales and massive amounts of Turkey, at least for those with power and those who can afford it. So this Thanksgiving, how will you “celebrate?” I suggest attending or tuning into the sunrise ceremony, organized by the International Indian Treaty Council on Alcatraz Island. Isn't it time to give that turkey a break?

References: Unamuno, Ralph. "Thanksgiving or Thanks-taking: Understanding the roots behind Turkey Day." 26 November 2003.

1 comment:

  1. I think you did a great job intersecting the different ways in which Thanksgiving is being experiences and (re)imagined...from the actual historical battle from which the holiday roots from, to even older historical connections to Spain and the Muslim peoples, to the consumerism that largely makes up the holiday with American society...

    I remember I posted a message forum on MySpace about 3 years ago, reminding people what we really are celebrating is the genocide of native peoples and the colonization of all our communities...However, I also highlighted the fact that for many of our families who come here as migrants, the holiday is very much de-contextualized..instead, we use that holiday to muster together and celebrate the unity of the family...although Thanksgiving is directly connected to historical and continuing forms of oppression, I also feel that the holiday has been appropriated by many communities and used in more empowering and healing ways...I was talking with a co-worker the other day and she told me how her family does not cook the "traditional" Thanksgiving food like turkey and yams...instead they cook all types of their more traditional Chinese dishes...