November 26, 2015

gratitude-1I’ve been thinking about gratitude. Yes, because of Thanksgiving, but for reasons beyond that as well.

Thanksgiving began as a gathering in gratitude by one of the original groups of immigrants to this country, people we know as the Pilgrims. To leave the strife of their homeland, they came to a new land knowing nothing of the endemic language, culture, or way of life. Many did not make it. Those who did owed their well-being to a group of residents who made the decision to help these needy newcomers to their shores. Not all of the residents felt the same way, but because some did, the newcomers eventually thrived.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it should. This scenario has been repeated throughout the history of our nation. There were different times, different groups, and different reasons for leaving their homelands, but it played out pretty much the same way. Some residents made the decision to help, and some did not. Those who did not attempted to create barriers of all kinds to keep the latest group of newcomers out. They used social rejection, making it abundantly and publicly clear that the group was unwanted. They used government legislation to control them or keep them out entirely. Some even resorted to violence.


The sad irony of America, the land of immigrants.

But the newcomers came nonetheless. They assimilated nonetheless. And by and large, they succeeded nonetheless. Just ask your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents because unless you are a Native American Indian or the descendant of a slave, your family most likely belonged to one of these groups. And after great struggle and perhaps some bitterness along the way, they too were able to share in the gratitude of being American.

This continues still. Different time. Different groups. Different reasons.

One of my adult ESL students, a young woman recently arrived from Cameroon, asked me during class what Thanksgiving was. I tried to explain the events leading up to that first celebration as best I could with the somewhat limited vocabulary understood by the class. I told the story of the people who left their homeland, about how they arrived in what was a new world for them ill-prepared to deal with such a different existence than they were used to. Though many were not, some of the native people were kind to them and helped them survive their difficult first year, and they had this celebration to give thanks.

The young woman looked at me, eyes wide, and said, “Just like it is for us.”

Yes. Yes, indeed.




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