Wednesday, December 4, 2019

National Indigenous People's Day of Mourning vs. American Thanksgiving vs. Something Else Entirely

what an eye-opening visit I had with an old 'friend' recently - probably someone I'll be crossing off my list of people to visit when I have free time to play with in town!  as we've had more than enough Universal signs pointing to this being an important year for all of us to sever ties that don't serve us as we journey ever more fully into ourselves, it also comes as a staunch reminder of how the community I live near is decidedly toxic for me, and how I need to really and truly let go of any remaining connections I had to a small circle of people I used to know who also migrated to this area from other locales.  here's the set-up:  I tend to stop in uninvited to this particular person's house every few months, and just this week, I ended up having about 2.5 hours unaccounted for in my schedule as my commitments took less time than I thought, so I took the opportunity to do a little visiting.  was that my first mistake?  leaving unaccounted time in my schedule?  or stopping by someone's house uninvited?  here's what I puzzled out about it when considering how I would feel if that person (or any person I considered a friend or closer acquaintance) showed up at my door uninvited at 5:30pm; it might be a bit weird, initially, as it's dark this time of year, and everyone is so up into their electronic devices (and who even goes visiting anymore other than me), but I would invite them in, and into whatever activity I was involved in at the time.  the people I had dropped in on appeared to be watching a program or video that they shut off when I showed up, and when I asked what they were watching, they said it was something about whether or not the national November holiday - which many people still refer to as "Thanksgiving", and I call "National Indigenous People's Day of Mourning" - is racist.  "Ah!"  I said, "that's a hot issue, now, isn't it?"  and asked them what they do during the 'holiday', and why.

"you guys mind if I chill here for a few hours?"

for them, like for many people, it's a day of the year when families have traditionally gotten together for generations, to eat particular foods, and enjoy each other's company - an innocuous harvest festival, for the most part, celebrated by many people for both secular and religious reasons, across a range of dates.  so how and when did it become so politicized?  turns out, the American holiday is rooted in English Christian tradition, dating back to religious rifts in the church during the 16th century, mostly as a way to replace the ever-increasing number of 'holy days' on their calendar (and probably limit the amount of time servants had to be allowed to attend services).  these early 'feasts of thanksgiving' were usually celebratory responses to a victory in battle, or some other event where folks just felt like being thankful to whatever god/s they worshiped, and the colonizers of the United States brought this tradition along with them in their bag of tricks when they violently took over the Native Americans' land.  there is still much debate over where and when the first thanksgiving feast was held in America, with claims of a Spanish religious service being held in what is now Florida as early as 1565, and the ones in Virginia (1619) and Massachusetts (1621) being the famous misrepresentations for our current narrative, which had their respective histories whitewashed for generations, leaving out the parts that showed the settlers to be brutal murderers, and promoting the nonsense that has been taught in American schools ever since (that the Pilgrims and Natives shared a lovely meal, and everyone lived happily ever after - except not).  there was a feast of thanksgiving held after the Continental Congress enacted the Constitution in 1787, and the 'first national thanksgiving' was proclaimed by George Washington in November of 1789.  it makes me wonder about that supposed separation between church & state that was written into our Constitution just two years earlier, and even though it was considered a secular event, the name of 'god' was invoked in order to further push the agenda that all success was due to 'outside forces', which must surely indicate the spiritual superiority of the 'victors', and so must be acknowledged by showing gratitude to said 'higher power'.  apparently, some politicians from back in the day agreed with me about that particular hypocrisy, and some even saw it as an unwelcome declaration from 'the North', indicative of the long history of regional tensions between those above and below the Mason-Dixon line (the demarcation line between Maryland and Pennsylvania, showing the boundary between states that allowed slavery, and states that didn't, in 1767) .

depiction of the Pequot Massacre, 1637

all that said, "Thanksgiving" in its current iteration was midwifed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 (in the midst of the Civil War), after decades of Ms. Sarah Josepha Buell Hale hounding everyone in government to do so via letters, and publishing poems, stories, and recipes that supported her vision for a national holiday in the popular 'ladies magazine' she edited.  it was only in 1941 when FDR - in a bid to extend the holiday shopping season - signed the resolution to establish the current date (the fourth Thursday in November) as a federal holiday across the entire US that we eventually arrived at the modern 'celebration' we know and love/loathe today, depending on your perspective.  for the above-mentioned 'friend' I dropped in on, it has been a day for them, as a parent to several children with different partners, to have all their kids (and sometimes one or more of the partners) together in one place, for a hearty meal.  and there's nothing wrong with that, is there?  for me, being 'cut off' from my family of origin the way I am, there are NO holidays that I celebrate with any blood relatives other than my own child, so I don't really care about That particular aspect of the traditional feast...also, being Jewish, I have no connection to any English or Christian feast or fast days, and the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot happened back in mid-October, and is celebrated with foods and rituals indigenous to the Middle-East (though living in America, we do include indigenous American foods in our practices).  my people emigrated to the US from Europe in order to escape religious persecution in the same way the early settlers and colonists claimed to, the difference being that we didn't rape and murder millions of indigenous people, or force our religion onto them, in order to do it.  we were running from our own genocide, to be sure, yet I am well aware of how assimilated Jews have contributed to the racist and oppressive systems that continue to pervade our institutions, systems, and relationships - it's hard to be well-educated, and not accept that reality, however hard it may be to recognize our complicity.  in any case, this "American Thanksgiving" wasn't something my Romanian/Romani/Israeli father was overly familiar with, and I think that's why it hardly registers to me as anything other than a break in the school year, or a day off of work (if you're lucky enough to work at a job that doesn't require your presence for the gross display of mass consumption everything in America has become).

maybe give a little bit of yourself - take time to play a game with your family at home during the 'gift-giving' season.  bake cookies, make art together, sing songs, make memories by engaging in enriching activities together...

as a young adult living on my own, I never bothered with the national Thanksgiving holiday - I hardly had an oven to cook a meal in, let alone all that 'traditional' nonsense.  I usually had to work, or was happy to have a day off to catch up on some sleep!  during the years that I had a 'home' to go to, it became the horrible emotional roller-coaster for me that it is for many who are less than welcome at family gatherings for myriad reasons.  in my case, one of those reasons was my growing moral imperative to address the feast as the impetus for the genocide it became for the people whose stolen land I feel duty-bound to acknowledge we live on, even though my mother's people came here to avoid similar fates in their own lands (my dad's people went to Israel, and later to Canada - another nation with much the same issues as the US in regards to the indigenous people who live there).  social media can also make it harder, serving up a stream of pictures of people gathering together with loved ones, while I'm home alone with my kid, trying not to internalize the feeling of there being something inherently 'wrong' with us because no one wants us at their table - not that I'd feel good about going anywhere other than a memorial service for the murdered...  once I became aware of the true story of the colonial-settler-genocide this day commemorates, I couldn't in good conscience 'celebrate' anything about it, and in lieu of any local non-colonial-settler-genocide commemorations to attend (that I am aware of), my tradition with my son has become to light a yahrtzeit candle (Jewish memorial candle) in honor of National Indigenous People's Day of Mourning, wherein we eat whatever we feel like eating, and watch Native American centered movies.  when the rest of the national consciousness catches up with my understanding of how horribly the marginalized original people of this land feel about the 'celebrations' of their attempted murder, maybe I'll celebrate that.  I know change takes time, and I look forward to when it comes for this holiday (and many others like it).  it has nothing to do with me, and I don't need it.

this is where I got the name 'National Indigenous People's Day of Mourning'.  they've been trying to get us to notice these issues since the beginning of my life - I think it's time more of us listened to them.

so what does any of that have to do with my dropping in on someone who has to ask whether or not the day of feasting is racist?  well, I have a little bit of a problem with people who can't see past their own desires to continue to whitewash history, especially when they're the kind of people I expect to know better, because of their self-proclaimed 'advanced spiritual mindset' (remember that point from earlier in this essay?  how the colonizers saw themselves as being favored by their 'god' because they mostly succeeded in their murderous endeavors?).  I mean, how can you claim to be more 'spiritually-advanced' than the next guy, when the next guy is a Native American telling you how they feel on the third Thursday of every year while watching white people continue to eat the traditional foods they themselves have been disconnected from, while inventing narratives about what good friends we all were back in the day, before the colonizers tried to kill them all?  sure thing, man - take some more ayahuasca, and appropriate some more cultural ceremonies that aren't yours to claim (hint:  if the cops and paramedics get called out to your 'ceremony', perhaps you're doing it wrong).  for sure - I get having a day when you get to have all your kids together at once, but think about why you get that, why you need that, and what information you're passing on, given the opportunity to have a family discussion around sensitive, yet ultimately important, issues.  look into where your own family traditions come from, and decide whether or not they're worth carrying on.  look into your own ancestral history, and see if there isn't a celebration that makes more sense for you to connect with.  make up your own holiday, and share that with your family!  or take a moment to honor the people who died so you could have a place to spread your whiteness around.  yeah, I know...I'm white too, but I do my part to call out my fellow Jews and Roma on these points as well.  and there's plenty of stuff I get wrong and need to correct for - this just doesn't happen to be one of them.  aside:  also, I'm pretty sure people who are ever so spiritually enlightened ought, in my opinion, be more actively involved in promoting inclusivity through building community, rather than practicing exclusivity based on jealousy and petty rivalries, or socioeconomic status.

quote from a great article I read in Bitch media's Travel issue last summer - read the full piece here.

as to me turning up unannounced, etiquette begs several questions, and the mixed signals I got from the person in question wouldn't help me answer them, though I'm smart enough to figure it out on my own.  first off, I have known this person for 30 odd years, through two of their relationships (one with another former friend), and all through most of their children's lives.  I am often received with a hug, and a "come on in", though this last time I got the feeling I wasn't welcome.  if that was the case, I would have expected this person to know me well enough and/or feel comfortable enough to tell me it wasn't a good time, that they simply weren't in the mood to receive guests, or that they would prefer if I called before dropping in (or even that they would prefer I didn't drop in at all).  none of those responses would have hurt my feelings, and I would have found some other way to amuse myself for the 2 hours I had left to wait to pick up my son from his rehearsal.  the bottom line is that the mood in the room began to feel awkward at the first conversational lull, and their body language made it obvious that they wanted to be doing other things.  I asked if it was ok for me to just stay while they 'did their thing', as it was cold out, and I didn't have anywhere else to go, to which they responded in the affirmative, but again, I felt weirdly unwelcome, so I chose to leave after a bit anyway.  there are plenty of reasons for me to recognize that this is a relationship better left in the past, and virtually none to support continuing it, hence it is ended.  again, moving forward, I'm only going where I'm celebrated, not where I'm barely tolerated.  of my labeling the town as toxic to me, I'm referencing the few people I know who live there, and make overtures of friendship, yet act in ways that are the opposite of what I consider friendly behavior, regularly.  not only that, one of them recently got angry when I mentioned that I had stopped trying with them, because they always find a last-minute excuse not to meet up, then don't make an attempt to reschedule...if that doesn't say "I don't want to hang out with you", I don't know what does!  so the onus is on me to do a better job of scheduling my time there fully, or making sure I have somewhere to be if I happen to have an hour here or there between scheduled plans because something didn't take as long as I thought it might.  I'd take it personally, but since the advent of cell phones and laptops, people just don't seem as interested in spending time with each other as they used to, which I think is a shame, because I like to visit with my friends, and take inspiration from the conversations we have, and appreciate the ways in which live interaction deepens our connections.  guess I'm just weird like that ~