Thursday, November 27, 2014


Today we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States of America. There is nothing more American than this annual family gathering that takes place across living rooms and then dining rooms. Weeks before Thanksgiving day, recipes are shared on cooking shows and in magazines, and between neighbors and friends. The art of baking the perfect moist Turkey, becomes the subject of many a conversation. In a seasonally early supper, Turkey meat is carved and consumed in copious amounts and the Trypotphan from the meat and alcohol from the wine puts everyone in the mood for some drowsy family time, which can get complicated and revealing at times. Many Americans joke about how Thanksgiving feasts are obligatory, special and sometimes the most painful meeting to be at every year. From being merry to being sorry, many American movies have depicted the Thanksgiving meal in its full spectrum of emotions. No matter the unpredictability of any family gathering, everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving as it officially marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the start of a cold winter with the new year on the horizon.

The first Thanksgiving dinner on record, took place in 1621 somewhere near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 1620 a small ship set sail from Plymouth, England carrying 102 passengers, mostly comprising of religious separatists who were fleeing persecution. The Pilgrims, as they later came to be known, dropped anchor off the coast of Massachusetts after a treacherous 66 day long journey. A month later the Mayflower crossed the Massachusetts bay to establish a colony. The Pilgrims, were the first illegal immigrants to arrive on the shores of this land who decided to stay. Through the first brutal winter most of the colonists decided to stay on the ship where many died of disease. Only half of them survived to see the first New England spring. When they moved ashore, they were warmly greeted by members from the Abenaki and Pawtuxet Indian tribes, who taught the severely malnourished immigrants how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish and avoid poisonous plants.

In November 1621 after the Pilgrims' first corn harvest was a success, the governor organized a celebratory feast and invited their fellow Indian tribesman to the three day long festivities. This was the first Thanksgiving feast which started a tradition that is celebrated to this today. Historians suggest that many of the dishes prepared may have used Indian spices and cooking methods. A chronicler recorded that a few of the settlers were sent out on a "fowling mission" which probably sealed the fate of the Turkey today. While Thanksgiving was celebrated mostly in the northeast in some shape or form, it was Abraham Lincoln who in 1863 at the height of the Civil War, declared it as a national day of remembrance and thanksgiving to "heal the wounds of the nation". In 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it up a week to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Since then Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

While the original spirit of Thanksgiving was of harmony, brotherhood and coexistence, it certainly did not persist for long. The natives showed the immigrants how to survive and flourish, and inadvertently opened a door to their own demise. Over the next century, native American tribes were decimated and a new world order was established for those who made America their homeland. The growing immigration from Europe that followed carved out a new character to this land of unspeakable natural beauty and limitless resources. The forests were tamed, slavery as a system of commerce was established and then abolished, technology became the driving force behind progress and new waves of immigrants from around the world shaped and reshaped a nation at its core.

When the Pilgrims arrived on the shores of America, they were seeking refuge from persecution. The opportunity they were after, was to live in peace without fear of oppression. The natives gave them that opportunity. That act of generosity laid the foundation for a new nation to be built. While a great amount of blood was shed in that endeavor, no matter how much many have tried to steer the nation from its founding history, it has proven again and again that immigration is the backbone of this nation.

Therefore, America belongs to everyone who comes here. Power, economic and political is distributed along racial lines based on those who had more opportunity relative to when they arrived on America's timeline. The early immigrants and their descendants wield more power today in relation to those who were oppressed and discriminated. The later waves of immigrants are relatively more successful, as America had established and recognized itself as a nation of all peoples, races and religions of the world. Even though it is apparent that America's wealth and prosperity is created by the ingenuity stemming from the continuous flow of immigrants, immigration legal and illegal continues to be a contentious issue. And every decade "immigration reform" is placed high on the agenda of every administration, partly to buy the allegiance of voting  blocks. 

It is not just a chance at economic prosperity that draws people to cross oceans, leave families and risk lives to come to America. The very history and character of this nation beckons all. Emma Lazarus' poem inscribed on The Liberty Statue reads,

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, 

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, 

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

It does not say give me your rich, most educated, most talented and the most desirable with a valid visa, but still many with skills choose this nation as their home. Even with issues of racism and prejudice, mainly emanating from a fear of a changing demographic, America offers a shot at glory, no matter who you are. It also celebrates those who make it, by calling it the "American Dream" achieved.

So when President Obama this month decided to use the power vested in him by the people, 
to offer a few million illegal immigrants reprieve from being hounded by law enforcement, he was called out for overstepping his powers and acting like a monarch. While everyone agrees that the immigration system is broken, and has been so for a very long time, the gridlock caused by partizan politics has become unacceptable to many. And so the president decided to do something about it. With 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, Obama's plan would let some 4.4 million who are parents of citizens and legal permanent residents remain in the country temporarily, without the threat of deportation. These undocumented residents could apply legally for jobs and join American society, but not vote or qualify for insurance under the president's healthcare law. This measure would apply to those who have been in the United States for the last five years. An additional 270,000 people would be eligible for relief under the expansion of a 2012 move by Obama to stop deporting people brought illegally to the United States as children by their parents, known as the "Dreamers".

In selling his decision to the people, President Obama said “We’re not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers who want to earn their piece of the American dream. We didn’t raise the Statute of Liberty with her back to the world, we did it with her light shining.” This small step in the right direction, will allow the few who live in the shadows, to live in dignity. Deporting 11 million people is unrealistic and expensive. Some think this might send the wrong signal to those who desire to come to this country illegally. The reality is those who want to come here, will come no matter what. The creation of a police state will not solve the problem of illegal immigration, as America is founded on the principle of accepting all those who want to "earn a piece of the American dream".

Thus America finds itself in a quandary. On one end it needs people to abide by its immigration laws, so that people who are waiting in line to become legal immigrants are not undermined. But on the other, it cannot effectively prevent people from entering its borders without becoming an inhuman militarized fortress, which goes against its founding tenets. And so the debate rages on, with politicians using fear tactics to dissuade illegal immigration and brainwashing the public by visions of terrorism and jobs stolen. The bulk of all undocumented workers in America are honest hard working people from South America and the Caribbean. They work in subhuman conditions, taking jobs most legal immigrants and citizens would not touch. They keep our strawberries cheap and our restaurants and meat processing plants competitive and open for business. They pay taxes but receive no services. They live as invisible people, contributing billions of dollars to the economy.

It is hard to argue for the deportation of people when this nation in its foundation was created by mostly illegal immigrants. Even though President Obama has deported more people than any president before, what he did with the signing of this executive order was not something out of the ordinary. Many presidents before him, Republican and Democrat, have offered amnesty to immigrants. But any serious change can only come about when the congress and the president work together towards meaningful long term reform. That is a gargantuan task in the present viscous political climate. But the president has shown that much can be done on the sidelines and he is willing to take necessary steps however small, to push for immigration reform. In a world defined by borders and increasing inequity and conflict, any humane longterm solution to immigration in affluent nations is knotty.

Another tradition that defines Thanksgiving, is the presidential pardon of Turkeys. This year President Obama pardoned two Turkeys, named Mac and Cheese. The chosen birds will live out their lives safe from slaughter on a 10,000 acre farm in Virginia. The president joked, "I know some will call this amnesty", alluding to the other Executive Order he passed earlier in the month. "But don't worry, there is plenty of Turkey to go around" he concluded. 

It is what it is.