President-Elect Barack Obama used the Thanksgiving holiday as the theme for his weekly address. And guess what? He gives a little background history about the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday.
I didn’t plan to write several posts on the theme of family, but themes sometimes take on a life of their own. This morning, I was glued to a Today Show segment produced by Max Paul, who set out on a rescue mission to bring his Aunt Andree back to the United States. Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, has been slammed by four hurricaines in the past several months – Gustav, Fay, Hanna, Ike – leveling villages with mud, contaminated water, and leaving hundreds dead or suffering from disease and illness. Many Haitians had nothing to begin with; now they have even less.
Max’s Aunt Andree is an inspiration. This was a woman who didn’t want to be rescued because she felt she had a mission to fulfill herself. If only we had more Aunt Andrees in the world. There are probably plenty. We don’t notice the hands that hold up the sky.
Here’s where I stand on Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s the one holiday I can feed my face with the most delicious comfort food, get together with family to share family history, stories, a few laughs, every now and then some drama which over time becomes just another page in the family comedy story. And then there’s the freedom of not having to buy, bring, and exchange gifts with the exception of something to eat. It is the one time of year, we take a real pause from our too busy lives to assess and express our gratitude for the year. Some years we have much to be grateful for; some years are bittersweet.
That said, I write this post in response to a “Community Comment” segment on WPFW FM yesterday. The question to the masses was “What does Thanksgiving mean to you?” Several callers gave chronology and history about Thanksgiving along the lines of a “Day of Genocide,” “Day of Mourning” for the Indigenous peoples of North America. They don’t subscribe to the mythology of English Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians sitting peacefully side-by-side in a feast of Thanksgiving where they served the first popcorn. Truth be told, I don’t subscribe to the mythology either. But neither do I subscribe to ignoring and castigating my family who do use the holiday to gather in not just the bounty but the relations. As one caller finally chimed in, we can know the real history behind Thanksgiving, but, he said, it’s a time “I enjoy getting together with my family. We don’t have to Scroogesize it.” [I'm adding "Scroogesize" to the Eclectique916 vocabulary list.]
And what do communities that grow food to sustain life and community do after a fine harvest? They give thanks. I have family members on my father’s side who are Indigenous people. One of my cousins gave us our first taste of fresh wild turkey. He “harvested” it himself. For them, Thanksgiving is the time to celebrate the harvest.
I’m doing this informal poll with Native Americans I know, friend and family alike, asking them the same question as WPFW. “What does Thanksgiving mean to you?” No one is representing. These are all individuals and personal opinions. My friend, filmmaker Billy Luther (Navajo) did respond:
i have so much cooking to do starting tomorrow. yikes! have a wonderful day!!!
He’s looking forward to sharing his bounty with family and friends.
My sister forwarded me the newsletter from the National Museum of the American Indian which featured a schedule of Thanksgiving programs under the heading “Celebrate Thanksgiving at the National Museum of the American Indian.” November 14 and 15, the NMAI hosted a Celebrate the Harvest Family program which featured traditional food preparation techniques – a foody thing. The NMAI houses one of my favorite museum cafeterias in the world. The food at the Mitsitam Cafe is so so good. Prices are not cafeteria prices. But it’s a treat.
Another interesting link, for the history buffs, is the Plimoth Plantation museum, which is trying to be balanced about the story and even debunk some of the myths of the encounters in New England. www.plimoth.org.
I’ll see what others say on the topic, but for me, I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving, and I don’t plan to be working that day. I can tell you my own family stories of genocide and mourning. However, the best time to collect these stories is (duh) Thanksgiving when every one feels the urge to come together; a family day, straight up. I have a lot to be thankful for, and my family is one those blessings or gifts. Saturday, it’s Cosmos with the girls. Friends are a blessing too.
And for those of you who are Scroogecizing tomorrow, maybe “The Addams Family Values” DVD can sweeten your mood.
Or if you’re on-line UndercoverBlackman has some great Native American history posts on his blog.
I had Teaism with my friend Ethelbert yesterday evening. He showed me the cover art for his second memoir The 5th Inning designed by Andy Shallal (release date is in March 2009).
There’s an interesting post on the E-Notes Blog/E mag this morning: an interview with Brenda Greene, Ph.D., Professor of English and Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evans College of the City University of New York.
Professor Greene talks about one of her former students Maya Soetoro-Ng, the half-sister of President-Elect Barack Obama. I hesitate to use the world half. In this case, the ties between brother and sister are strong enough to make a whole. Ms. Soetoro-Ng was named after the poet Maya Angelou, but it seems she’s the one who is making the morning call for her brother, the soon to be POTUS. Here’s what Professor Greene had to say about her enounters with Maya:
Maya had told me his name but it did not register at that time; I knew that the man whom she spoke of was doing important work and I admired that he was engaged in raising issues of pluralism and diversity. When Barack Obama spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, a former student of mine called and asked me if I had remembered Maya. “Of course.” I said. “I had always wondered what had happened to her for she had such a presence and had really helped to make the class a site of intellectual inquiry.” My student replied that Barack Obama was Maya’s brother. And I thought to myself, so he is the young man whom Maya always spoke of; he is the one whom she wanted me to meet.
Read the interview in its entirety on the E Notes Blog.
If anything else, Barack Obama’s weekly YouTube addresses sends a message that the President-Elect is on the job – Which is the topic of this week’s address: Jobs.
I’m glad they found another set and backdrop. Not quite the Oval Office….not yet. But the “Mad Men” wood paneling in the first video was just a tad tooooo retro for my taste :)