Giving Thanks

Helen Noakes

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November, with its Thanksgiving Day, always reminds me of my roots and of my family’s efforts to embrace America’s culture. Our Thanksgiving table was evidence of the exuberance with which an American tradition was accepted and amalgamated with our Greek heritage.”—Helen Noakes

Waking Point

By Helen Noakes

A Greek Thanksgiving Turkey.

A Greek Thanksgiving Turkey.

Helen NoakesSAN FRANCISCO California—(Weekly Hubris)—November 2017—I am an immigrant. Although I became an American Citizen decades ago, I shall, in my heart, always be Greek. And by extension, I look at some of the customs of this country from the periphery.

Am I so different from other immigrants? I don’t think so. I see newcomers to the United States struggle with the effort to comprehend values and behavior which, from my experience, will always be baffling and sometimes dangerous.

And if those Caucasians born here demand assimilation, might I ask why America continues to have St. Patrick’s Day and Columbus Day parades, Chinese New Year and Cinco di Mayo celebrations? Each of these draws immense crowds which consist not only of descendants of the respective cultures they honor but the general public as well.

Is that not evidence of commending diversity or, at least, of interest in it?

Why, then, do some Americans express outrage at the idea of immigrants entering this country and why do these same Americans revile the immigrants that are here? With the exception of Native Americans and African Americans, everyone who claims American citizenship is either naturalized or descended from immigrants.

Native Americans are the only people who are entitled to call this land their own.

While African Americans certainly are citizens of this country, their ancestors were brought here against their will. That’s not immigration, it’s slavery. Is the reason so many Caucasians revile them evidence of guilt, or is it rage that, somehow, people who were subjected to outrageous exploitation managed, despite Herculean obstacles, to survive the hell of slavery and pull themselves up to positions of prominence?

This hatred of “the other” is not unique to the United States. But this country is the most explicit example of “the other” being no one else but ourselves.

November, with its Thanksgiving Day, always reminds me of my roots and of my family’s efforts to embrace America’s culture. Our Thanksgiving table was evidence of the exuberance with which an American tradition was accepted and amalgamated with our Greek heritage.

We Greeks have a long history of assimilating other cultures. So, perhaps, what we exhibited at our Thanksgiving feast was part of our DNA.

There was, of course, turkey with all its trimmings, cranberry sauce and yams, but the first course consisted of tzaziki, taramosalata, tiropitakia, spanakopitakia, dolmathakia, horiatiki salata, bamies, and kefthedakia. Our guests, fellow Greeks, Russians, a gay Irishman, a Chinese couple, a Polish Jew, and some Russian Jews, enjoyed the food and delighted in each other’s company.

My father’s yearly toast, “To family, to friends who are family, and to America!” was met with high-spirited agreement. This, despite the fact that every naturalized citizen or Green Card holder among them had faced some bigotry and prejudice in this country.

The Polish Jew, who never erased the concentration camp tattoo from his arm, was the merriest of all at our table. To this day, I wonder at his resilience, his strength of spirit and courage. I wonder at all of them, who continued to have faith and hope in spite of what they had lived through before they came to these shores. I am grateful to have known them, to have seen what the human spirit is capable of.

Holidays are a time of reflection for me, and Thanksgiving is no exception. For some reason, perhaps because of the nefarious machinations of our current government, I wonder about the pilgrims who inspired Thanksgiving in the United States.

Idealized Version of the first Thanksgiving.

Idealized version of the first Thanksgiving.

We were told that they thanked God for having safely delivered them to this land, for the bounty the Native Americans provided to their feast. Did they, I ask myself, thank God for the Native Americans’ hospitality and generosity of spirit? Did the Pilgrims stop to think of the exceptionally evolved values of the Native Americans before they proceeded to slaughter them?

Dark thoughts, I know. But this question has been haunting me most of my life: When will we humans see ourselves in the face of “the other”?

I’ll be deeply and interminably grateful when that happens.

Helen Noakes

About Helen Noakes

Helen Noakes is a playwright, novelist, writer, art historian, linguist, and Traditional Reiki Master, who was brought up in and derives richness from several of the world's great traditions and philosophies. She believes that writing should engage and entertain, but also inform and inspire. She also believes that because the human race expresses itself in words, it is words, in the end, that will show us how very similar we are and how foolish it is to think otherwise.
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