Thankful for Being in America


By Vishnu Bisram

Caribbean people are thankful for being in America that allows them to realize a dream that was/is not possible in their home countries.

This weekend, Americans of all backgrounds are observing the traditional Thanksgiving Day holidays with family church service reunions, feasts, and charitable offerings. And Caribbean immigrants are in the thick of the celebration. Caribbean immigrants, all immigrants, are grateful to be in America and have joined with others in giving thanks to the nation. Thanksgiving is about immigrants giving thanks and each generation of immigrants and each ethnic group add its own distinct flavor of the festival as they celebrate at home and or in their community. And as they do with all other festivals, including Christmas or Independence Day, they celebrate the Thanksgiving festival in their own way with their own cuisine and drinks.

America has been kind and receptive to most immigrants with many having their own homes and cars and post-secondary education. Since their arrival in the U.S, Caribbean people have experienced a higher standard of living than in their home countries. And they give thanks by sharing their earnings with the poorer sections of the society and in sending remittances to relatives back in the home countries.

Thanksgiving Day is a historical celebration in the U.S going back to the 1600s since the early settlement of North America by Europeans (Pilgrims as we are told in history books). It is a national holiday, a kind of a spiritual day (without denomination) observed on the last Thursday of every November with businesses and schools closed in recess for an extended for day weekend. The festival sets up a state of mind for the Christmas and Hanukah holidays which is a month later. It is the busiest shopping period as well as the busiest travel week in the year. Over forty million Americans are expected to travel a minimum of 100 miles to be with their relatives during the festival.

The holiday grew out of the harvest celebrations of England. The early English immigrants introduced it in the U.S giving thanks for the harvest and the blessings of the past year. And since that time every wave of immigrants, including recent arrivals like the large Caribbean community, have joined in the celebration by adding their own ethnic flavor giving thanks and to the traditional cuisine, music, drinks and entertainment.

Caribbean people, as indeed most Americans, view Thanksgiving as an occasion for family reunion and big dinners. Relatives normally take turn hosting dinner over the four days period from Thursday to Sunday. Dinner normally includes the traditional baked or roasted turkey, pumpkin pie, sweet yams, corn, cranberry jelly, and salad (including sugar beets) with wine and other hard liquor. It is supplemented with traditional dishes including dhal puri, pachounie, phulourie, bara, fried rice, chowmein, and fried channa as snacks and their favorite drinks — mauby and sorrel for the children and Caribbean rum for the adults. For desert, there is Black cake, pumkin pie, sweet potato pie and Indo-Caribbeans throw in rasmalai, gulab jamoon, etc. And it is not unusual for them to substitute the turkey with curried duck, chicken, mutton, and goat, etc.

Giving to the less fortunate is part of the Caribbean culture. Giving back to society is considered as part of their duty because the community has so much to be thankful for — for being healthy and alive and escaping the impoverishment of the Caribbean. And people donate food to shelters and some host dinners for the unfortunate. Others donate foods at pantries and offer services giving out food to the poor. To give thanks, some bake turkeys and cakes that are donated to homeless shelters in Brooklyn and the Bowery in downtown Manhattan. Their charitable gifts help to ease social problems such as hunger, poverty and homelessness in the city. Caribbean people volunteer time at churches that host dinners for the poor and homeless.

Many also used the Thanksgiving occasion to give generously to the charities of their choice, including the Red Cross and the American Cancer Institute in addition to their local mandir, masjid and church. Others send money to friends and relatives in the home countries.

Thanksgiving Day is usually celebrated with the largest parade in the nation on Fifth Avenue featuring all kinds of magnificent floats and balloons of cartoon characters and a host of Hollywood celebrities and sports stars. Most people were glued to the television sets that carried live broadcasts of the parade.

By observing the festival, Caribbean people are participating in a mainstream American celebration in the same manner that they celebrate their own traditional festivals such as Phagwah, Deepavalli, Eid, Qurbani, Christmas, etc. They want to give thanks for the progress they have made in America, the land that has given them the opportunity to realize their dreams. They are contributing in making America a better place to live and sharing their wealth and giving back to the society to which they owe their success.


VISHNU BISRAM IS AN INDEPENDENT COLUMNIST. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.