Three hundred and eighty-six years ago a group of undocumented immigrants and native-born Americans feasted together for three days to celebrate a successful harvest made possible by mutual cooperation.
Yes, those Pilgrims showed up in Massachusetts without immigration papers or any other kind of permission from the people who lived there. And the Wampanoag Indians helped them survive, teaching them how to cultivate unfamiliar crops in an unfamiliar land.
That feast in the fall of 1621 is considered a beginning of our Thanksgiving holiday.
In 2007, as we sit down to eat our turkey and trimmings, we would do well to reflect on those beginnings.
This year, we are getting a barrage of ugly hate-speech about undocumented immigrants — people who, like the Pilgrims and hundreds of thousands of immigrants since then, came here to escape hardship of various kinds and to create a better life for themselves and their families. For most of our history, no restrictions blocked them from coming.
It was only in the late 1800s that laws started to be passed to keep one or another group of human beings out. Chinese workers were the first targets, in the notorious 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The 1917 Immigration Act blocked people from an enormous “Asiatic Barred Zone” stretching from the Middle East through the South Pacific. It also barred, among others, epileptics, people who were “mentally or physically defective” and anarchists.
We’ll surely hear pious words about Thanksgiving from our president and his right-wing demagogue friends. But out of the other side of their mouths they scorn the best of our nation’s history and promote the worst kinds of racist, ethnic and anti-worker prejudice.
A lot of ugly history took place after that 1621 celebration, coinciding with the emergence of our country as a continental and then global capitalist power. But equally important are the themes of mutual aid, welcoming of newcomers and appreciation of the bounties of nature that we see in this early celebration. This Thanksgiving, let’s reflect on those themes and vow to overcome the haters and bigots in the new year.