Thanksgiving - It's Complicated

Thanksgiving never really meant much to me growing up. We didn't eat turkey or cranberry sauce. When my school would host reenactments of the day, I never felt a connection with the pilgrims and was told I wasn't allowed to an "Indian" because there were no female native Americans at the first Thanksgiving feast.

Don't even get me started on unpacking all of THAT.

Therefore, to me, Thanksgiving was an excuse to get out of school and eat awesome food. For me, this included pernil, tostones, arroz con pollo, postre, and washing it all down with coquito. Virgin of course. I didn't have my first "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner until I had been invited to my in-laws for the event.

While I love me some stuffing, nothing beats platanos mixed with rice and beans, though. Sorry-not-sorry turkey and cranberry lovers.

But then again, these were the foods of my childhood. I was raised with these foods and for me, that meant positive associations of love and family and safety. I didn't really care why "los Americanos" wanted to have this holiday as long as I didn't have to go to school and I could keep eating.

Even though Puerto Ricans are clearly American, we aren't really raised to think that way. Puerto Rico is treated like a different country - in more ways than one - and it still doesn't feel like a part of the United States. And so, when I was young, Thanksgiving was an "American" holiday that I just bummed a ride on.

As I grew older and learned more truth, Thanksgiving became a bit horrifying for me. Every year I inadvertently celebrated the deaths of 700 indigenous Wampanoag by stuffing my face. As a person who is part indigenous herself - Taino - that was a punch in the stomach. I had been taught Thanksgiving was about Native Americans saving Europeans from starvation. I never knew it was a feast for warlords.

If you don't know the true story of Thanksgiving, here's a great source to get the facts:

What to do then? I now know the story of Thanksgiving yet I want to see my family this time of year. I know its history has been lost to a twisted retelling but my memories of the day in my time period are always so warm and wonderful.

And how does this all tie into yoga lol?

As a yoga teacher, I believe in creating a welcoming space for all. You need to feel welcome in the place you practice yoga because yoga requires surrender. You need to be able to relax completely and you just can't do that if there's a patina of tension in the room. I'm not saying that I can singlehandedly fix system racism, genderism, ageism, etc. But I feel it is my duty to try.

Part of that attempt is respecting the traditions of other cultures. So when someone says Happy Thanksgiving, what do you say? What I want to say is "there's nothing happy about it." What I want to say is that "I am Puerto Rican and therefore part of a history that murdered and was murdered, both conquerer and conquered." What I want to say is how "this holiday should be abolished and reparations made and no matter what we do will never be enough." I want to hand them tomes of history and documentaries and biographies to see what Thanksgiving is like for the indigenous peoples of America and the Caribbean.

But instead, what comes out is a mumbled "Happy Thanksgiving to you too," as I roll up my yoga mat to go enjoy a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All