Thanksgiving From The Margins

Thanksgiving is my favorite North American holiday by far. It doesn't make new or poor Americans feel as left out as some of the other festival days. During winter break, why did the fat dude in red bring presents for everybody in my class except me?

Duck For Turkey Day, a new picture book from Albert Whitman & Co by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kathryn Mitter, tells the story of Tuyet, a Vietnamese-American girl who worries about eating duck on "Turkey Day." A chorus of classmates reassures Tuyet at the end of the book, describing a diversity of food eaten at their tables as they too celebrated America's day of gratitude with their families.  

The book is wonderful choice for classrooms and families this Thanksgiving. School Library Journal says, "This sweet tale is written in straightforward prose and provides a brief glimpse of another culture. Mitter's bright illustrations accented with cozy details draw readers into Tuyet's happy home and enhance the story's heartwarming message."

Even as I enjoy Thanksgiving as the ultimate immigrant holiday, I'm aware of the festival's mixed messages. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, as I shared last Thanksgiving, Sherman Alexie's protagonist illuminates how strange Thanksgiving is for descendants of America's only non-immigrants:
I always think it's funny when Indians celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, sure, the Indians and Pilgrims were best friends during that First Thanksgiving, but a few years later, the Pilgrims were shooting Indians.

So I'm never quite sure why we eat turkey like everybody else.

"Hey, Dad," I said. "What do Indians have to be so thankful for?"

"We should give thanks that they didn't kill all of us."

We laughed like crazy. It was a good day. Dad was sober. Mom was getting ready to nap. Grandma was already napping.
(Source: Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children's Literature)
To find books and resources recommended by Indians about Thanksgiving, visit Oyate, "a Native organization working to see that our lives and histories are portrayed honestly, and so that all people will know our stories belong to us." I've included them below.

Deconstructing the Myths of “The First Thanksgiving” (short version)
[view] | [download]

Deconstructing the Myths of “The First Thanksgiving”
(long version)
[view] | [download]
Recommended books from an Indian perspective
[view] | [download]

Primary sources from a colonialist perspective
[view] |[download]


Anonymous said…
It was extremely interesting for me to read the blog. Thank you for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I would like to read more soon.
Anonymous said…
Do you mean to say that actually happened? Santa Claus brought gifts for every kid in the class except you? I can hardly believe it if that's true. I could also hardly believe from one of your earlier blogs about your school days that you were referred to in such insulting terms when the team leader finally was forced to pick you. I live in Hawaii and we have a creole dialect saying that goes: "Lucky you live Hawaii." I escaped racism to the extent that you suffered it (in fact, hardly at all) but other kids sometimes taunted us by calling us "Pearl Harbor bombers" when we quarrelled. I always felt that we took the rap for all the bad done by the country of our ancestors and it was a heavy burden, and still is for we are still taking the rap. But to be hurt by stuff like you mentioned as a child is real heartbreak.
Mitali Perkins said…
Oops, I meant during the holiday break. I fixed the post; thanks for your comment. That's one of the reasons I've always wanted to live in Hawaii -- for the Pacific Rim vibe.

As for taking the rap for our ancestors, is it our duty? We didn't commit those sins, did we? Are we guilty by association? What about descendants of slave owners? Or in my case, Hindu landowners who oppressed their Muslim workers?
Anonymous said…
I should add more to what I said about "taking the rap." I meant that we were, and are, unjustly reviled and connected to our three generations removed ancestors and their homeland and its wrongs, e.g., Pearl Harbor, because of our ethnicity; to be blunt, based on our physical features. We didn't opt to take the blame. "People" just forced it on us. It sometimes makes us feel great animosity toward that nation we are connected to by our physical looks. We feel the heat not only in the U. S. (and we are U. S. citizens) but from Chinese, Korean, and Filipino nationals because of that country's incursion into their homelands. An interesting question: if a white nation had committed Pearl Harbor, would blame be perpetuated forever on descendants' children who are Americans born and raised in the U. S.?

Lensey Namioka's YA novel, MISMATCH (Random House Children's Bks., 2006) deals with the mutual prejudice held by the families of the Chinese heroine and her Japanese boyfriend.
Imagination said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kelly Korenak said…
What a fascinating post! As a progressive, I share some misgivings about Thanksgiving and its representation in popular culture, but I never thought about Thanksgiving from an immigrant's perspective before.
Grace said…
Duck for a Turkey day. I like supplements but there must be a tradition too. Loves that book since I saw the cover. You can't really fall in love with it, can't you? odszkodowanie za wypadek w pracy UK
Andrea said…
You're completely right Grace. I have read book and then start laughing at the cover as my children told me about this nonsense (that's what they said). Really good book indeed. polish to english translator