Right now, my son is probably sitting on a chair at school, tracing his little fingers to make a colorful turkey out of construction paper. His tiny hand will form the happy feathers of the festive bird. I bet that he has already colored several chubby, cartoonish little pilgrims and Native Americans (all of whom are smiling). I bet he has already sung a silly song about turkeys, while yelling “gobble gobble,” which he will come home and perform for me. When he does come home to show me all he has learned, I will smile and tell him what a great job he did.
“That’s a beautiful little hand-turkey! Mommy is going to put it on our refrigerator!”
“Isn’t that the cutest little pilgrim? You did great, my love!”
I’m probably not going to sit my two-year-old down for a short talk about genocide and how we, as indigenous people who have been repeatedly colonized and displaced, should probably celebrate and give thanks for the things we value in ways disconnected from the sugar coated imagery of crimes against other indigenous groups. I mean, really, how weird is it that a people with a history of genocide, enslavement, and displacement celebrate these offenses against other groups like ours?
I slowly scrolled down my facebook feed today to see several local children dressed up as pilgrims at their schools. On Instagram, I saw more of them wearing construction paper feather headdresses. I guess they’re closer to the role of “Indian” than pilgrim, I thought to myself, dryly.
My students and I have been talking about these American holidays on Guam a lot lately. It began with Columbus Day. Government of Guam agencies did not give their employees the day off. So, the college held classes as usual. At first, my students were disappointed. “Why don’t we get a day off for Columbus?!,” they whined. So, I had them do some digging on Columbus and they ultimately decided that, as indigenous people, they didn’t really want to celebrate him after all.
One of my students announced that, “Columbus would have totally hated us.” We also shared a good laugh about the way many older CHamoru and Filipino men actually belong to the Knights of Columbus organization through the Catholic Church. We decided it was funny, because Columbus probably wouldn’t have wanted any indigenous people in his little club. One kid said Columbus was probably looking down from heaven, “annoyed with all the brown people in his club.” He said, “he would have probably enslaved all those CHamoru and Filipino guys, taken all their land and money, then given their daughters to his men.” I know; that’s not funny, but it was funny.
When Thanksgiving started inching closer, they started to ask the same questions (already on a mission to learn about the origins of many American holidays after the whole Columbus thing). The same student who said Columbus would have “totally hated us,” pointed out that the “pilgrims might have dicked us over too.” Again, we laughed, but we ended brainstorming about how we, as adults, would teach our younger generations about these American holidays, which are rooted in crimes against people like us (or against us directly). Some in the class felt that we were “in too deep” to suddenly ask the schools to stop lying to the kids. Are we? Is it really too late? They also wondered whether or not we should be saying that extra prayer to Pale San Vitores at the end of mass. They went back and forth for a while. Other students suggested that we simply redefine the holidays, appropriate the celebration the way Americans tend to appropriate things from other cultures. Then, of course, there were those who felt we should boycott the holiday entirely.
Thanksgiving is another holiday in which we are sent small reminders about how we are American, but we are not American. We are…and we are not.
I keep thinking of my students and their discussion this week. Now that I have a son, I’m seeing how completely ignoring the holiday can be unrealistic (something I once considered doing before getting knocked up). I have some mommy-friends who do this, but it’s not for me. A part of me does admire them though. I also see that simply going along with the myth doesn’t sit well with me. I can’t turn a blind eye, especially while so much about our home and culture seems to be in jeopardy lately. I think that I’ve found myself carrying out the advice of students who suggested we “redefine” the holiday. I never actively stopped to think about it until now though. Something about a low flying military jet screeching over my car on the way to work made me think about it more intensely though.
My little family will not be coming together in the spirit of “brotherly love forged on the new continent” or in gratitude for all that we have (which was made possible by the death and displacement of people like us). I probably won’t surround my kid with pictures of happy, fat little pilgrims and natives. No, instead, we will be coming together to collectively give thanks for the progress that has been made toward spreading consciousness about our people and culture, for the island that we live on that has been through so much, for our families that have such rich histories, and more than anything, for the fact that through it all, we are still here.
We are still here; we are still CHamoru (no matter what some haole guy in the newspaper opinion section might write), and we are still raising generations of children who will know the value of their home and culture.
We are grateful because our islands truly are sacred and we are so blessed to have them. We are grateful for all the efforts being made to protect our home from further destruction and deterioration. We, as Chamoru mommies, have so much to be thankful for. We don’t need pilgrim costumes to teach our children that. We don’t need a comfortable myth to teach them that either.
I hope all of you have a wonderful weekend with your family. Don’t think too hard about it. I’m not trying to ruin your turkey and stuffing. I just want you to have turkey and stuffing for different reasons.