You know the story. In 1620, the Pilgrims hopped the Mayflower and sailed across the stormy seas for the New World. They landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, hung with the Native Americans, and scarfed down some deer and maybe some cornmeal mush (sorry to burst your turkey and marshmallow yam bubble). And every year, in celebration, we (new) Americans watch football, eat way too much, and plan out our Black Friday shopping strategy.
The events that culminated in the original Thanksgiving feast (and those that followed) weren't exactly America's proudest moments. And for some (shout-out to Angelina Jolie) that history is reason enough to opt out of Thanksgiving. I don't see why it should be -- and not just because I love me some cranberry sauce.
There's no reason we can't acknowledge what really went down between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag and still be incredibly thankful (and more than a little humble). The Pilgrims did have a few kick-ass qualities, but more importantly, so did their Wampanoag welcoming committee. Fortunately for them, Massasoit was no Sharron Angle.
The Pilgrims were, after all, this country's first group of illegal immigrants. What were they like?
- The Pilgrims were brave. They were amazing, courageous, persecuted people who wanted to make new and better lives for themselves, and they sought out a place where they could make that happen. They weren't afraid to leave the only home and country they knew. They weren't afraid to leave friends and families behind. They weren't afraid to risk their lives and undertake an arduous journey. It was that bad where they lived.
- The Pilgrims didn't speak the language -- nor did they bother to learn it. Otherwise, we'd all be speaking an Algonquian language rather than English. Because of that, the Wampanoag language is dying out -- though we do see remnants of it today in words such as Massachusetts. In 1993, an initiative called the Wopanaak Language Restoration Project was started. Jesse Little Doe Bird, the MIT linguist behind the initiative, was honored with a 2010 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
- The Pilgrims were all on government assistance. They didn't have working papers and they lacked the skills necessary to survive in the unfamiliar New World. Massasoit and friends kindly taught them how to fish, how to hunt, and made sure they could provide for their families so their undocumented kids wouldn't starve.
- The Pilgrims came here for religious freedom and to create a more democratic nation, yet they stripped the Native Americans of their rights. Native tribes, languages, and traditions were outlawed. Many of the Native Americans were forced into slavery. Everyone was "free" as long as they followed the Pilgrim plan.
- The Pilgrims wooed the Wampanoag with booze. And while they were drunk, they took advantage of them, coercing them to sign shady land deals. Metacomet, the Wampanoag leader at the time (and Massasoit's son), insisted this practice be outlawed. The British refused.
- The Pilgrims engaged in genocide. The Wampanoag in the area numbered 12,000 at their peak. When the Pilgrims were done, there were only about 2,000 living.
But despite all of those atrocities, guess what? Thanksgiving was not celebrated as a family or religious holiday, it was a multicultural community event. Pretty cool, huh? Two groups of people coming together to celebrate the melting pot that America was fast becoming. (C'mon Angie, seems like you can get on board with that.)
So I say, eat your turkey (unless you prefer deer), watch your football, and be grateful. Be grateful that Massasoit opened his borders to people in need and helped them make better lives for their families. Be grateful for those Pilgrims who were brave enough to leave their homelands in pursuit of a better life for all of us anchor babies. Be grateful that America is a multicultural country filled with all kinds of people, traditions, languages, religions, and political beliefs. I know I am.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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