“I feel like what’s been really dangerous about Thanksgiving is the mythology around the settlers and the natives and how they had such beautiful time. … It kind of just pushes aside so much of the trauma that was happening.”
– CHEF SEAN SHERMAN
Last week, before my live chat with Zachariah the Witch, I was reflecting on the evolution of the way we celebrate Thanksgiving. I did what I always do, I went back in time, to my childhood and revisited my first memories of Thanksgiving. As a kid, food was always the top priority and each year, I would spend Thanksgiving with either my mom’s side of the family or my Dad’s. My parents were all about the food and showing off. And, of corpse, the food was always winning on my black side of the family. But, it was my white side of the family that engaged more in rituals of gratitude and storytelling. We weren’t allowed to eat until we went around the table and said what we were grateful for. It was my hippie-like uncle who first shared the truth about Thanksgiving with us kids. I was still quite young but I remember him saying something to the effect of – The Pilgrims were murderers. They came here and were taught skills on how to live and survive from the land. They offered food and shelter and in return, the colonizers broke their own treaties with the indigenous people and then began to slaughter whole tribes in order to colonize. That’s when I knew the history I was being taught in school was leaving out a whole shit load of truths and I was being conditioned to believe in what many Americans believe today- it was so long ago, we can’t do anything about it. I thought about it for a moment before we resumed sharing what we were grateful for.
I know it’s weird that it was my white side of the family that taught me the most lessons of tolerance, inclusion and equity. I know! Any time my Grandma would take my cousins and I to Yosemite, some Los Angeles landmark, theater and even in San Diego, she would make it a point that we kids learned about the origins of the ground we were standing on. Both of my aunts, their husbands and my hippie-like uncle would do the same. They all encouraged us to read plaques in museums, they gave us books and had us engage or watch performances.
I remember being scared of nighttime when I was with my Aunt, Uncle and cousins who live in Los Angeles. My Uncle Luz, my Aunt’s husband, was the best storyteller and he often read us books before bed. Sometimes those stories had everything to do with history. He made them so much fun but scary (for me) because he was so good at his storytelling. He taught us lessons about the Chicano movement and the importance of respecting the lands we live on. For my cousins, these stories, these truths were everyday. For me, it was scary because my parents didn’t teach truthful lessons. I was taught blissful ignorance at home. Of corpse I felt safer with my “things” while there. My mom would always tell me I was “too young to understand” literally everything. My mom especially didn’t care much for other ethnic struggles or traditions. She learned to parent based on what the media projected. Satanic panic, Prince being too inappropriate for me to listen to, razor blades in apples, kidnappers and child molesters were everywhere! I never feared those things but, the truth about American genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, reservations and their lack of basic resources fucking did!
The point of teaching our children history is ensure human’s learn from the fuck ups of our past. Despite how embarrassing and painful those lessons were. They still need to be taught. Realize that America wants you to believe in white supremacy, they want you to believe nothing can be done in order to pay reparations, that giving the diminishing race of indigenous people reservations to live on is good enough. We are conditioned to believe that immigrating to America can be achieved if immigrants would just simply “go through the process.” All lies that are still being projected in order to protect systemic racism and control people of color.
As you all know, it’s been a minute since I have spent any Thanksgiving with any family. The most unfortunate reason, aside from Covid, is because my black side of the family is gone. I still have my mom’s side of the family and when things seem safer, I hope to rally with them and share new lessons and offer gratitude. And forget going to my husband’s side of the family. I can’t eat black stuffing with olives and that family is way into enabling systemic racism. No, for the past few “Last Thursday of November ” I have found ways to decolonize thanksgiving with my husband and kids. Before the pandemic, I hosted a Friends-giving on Black Friday. Last year, we made street tacos for dinner (the neighbors in Rancho Cucamonga were totally jelly) and this year we will be doing the same along with beginning some other new traditions that include honoring and offering gratitude to Native people. I’d like to share some of those with you. Click the link below.
However you spend Thanksgiving, I implore you to observe the truth of the day. Learn, teach and talk about how colonization and systemic racism is part of these traditions and find ways to make changes. It has to start from our dinner tables. You know you’ll be arguing about politics and football anyways. We write our own history through traditions. But go forth by recognizing the truth, learn and make changes. You may not see the effect you have but, that’s not really your business. Share anyways. One day, someone somewhere will be grateful you did.