Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Sociology of Thanksgiving (Holiday Break)

Thanksgiving holiday break has many layers for me.

When I was young and my parents were married, we had "traditional" Thanksgiving feasts in our home (Davis) and in friends across the Bay Area.

When they got divorced, we let some of that go -- my mom did not grow up in the United States so (on our own) the recipes and rituals were not meaningful. If we did not join a friend's Thanksgiving, we usually opted to go to the movies. It's was a melancholy time - just a warm up to the misery of Christmas.

In high school, when money was tight and tensions in my house were high, I volunteered to work all day and night at my job in the local movie rental store.

In college (UCSD), missing home but with no car, I would either take the Greyhound Bus or contribute gas money to someone driving up North. While money will still incredibly tight, being with family was the most important and seeing a film on Thanksgiving was our anticipated ritual.

The melancholy lessened over the years.

What helped was shifting the meaning of the space that Thanksgiving provides -- mindful practice of gratitude. My partner and I cooked up feasts of our liking: Cuban pork one year and an array of ceviches another year. With children, we have continued the practice of taking the entire month to focus on gratitude and to commune over meals with friends.

Personal history, sensitivity to socio-economic conditions, and family tensions can be considered "data" to analyze as we experience Thanksgiving and the school break that gives room for this holiday. If I am teaching an Introduction course or Qualitative Methods, I usually assign this type of extra credit project. Below, find my assignment for this semester.

The Sociology of Thanksgiving
Extra Credit Assignment
Soc 101 ~ Fall 2014

First, read these links in detail…

Overlooked Thanksgiving Rituals According to Sociologists

Holiday or Work? Thanksgiving and Social Class 

Secular Ritual: Durkheim at the Thanksgiving Day Parade

Thanksgiving – A Day of Celebration or a Day of Mourning?

Former Foster Children (now in college) Cope with Thanksgiving Break

Black Friday and the Consumption Dance

Second, view at least two of these films; they feature holiday meals…
Babette’s Feast
The Big Night
Eat Drink Man Woman
Home for the Holidays
Pieces of April
The Ice Storm
She’s Gotta Have It
Hannah and Her Sisters

Third, pay attention to your own Thanksgiving break experience.
Did you have a sumptuous meal? Did you work? Were you with family? What were the conflicts? What are your rituals – both traditional and new – that you incorporate into this 4 day holiday break? Sports? Shopping?

Fourth, put it all together…
Drawing upon the material – films, essays, research, and your life – write a 2-page, singled-spaced analytical reflection on the topic of The Sociology of Thanksgiving (Break).  Feel free to use the sociological material from our course as well. You may organize in a way that fits your analysis; however, you must incorporate all the required / minimum materials mentioned above.

Print it out and bring it to class on Monday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

To my son's kindergarten teacher (Thanksgiving)

We just started kindergarten with my 5-year old son and have already had interactions with his teacher about my chiquito wearing pink socks, leggings, and purple shirts -- he loves them, kids tease him. The teacher has been responsive and supportive of our little guy. 

Thanksgiving is coming and, like Halloween, has problematic social constructions and offensive costumes. In our district, the kids have an entire week off. Our son has been coming home with a lot of construction turkeys. So, I wondered if the explanation of this season would be through a "Pilgrims and Indians" framework. 

Last week, at the drop off gate, I joked with his teacher, "Please don't tell me any children will be wearing feathers!" A bit more of a light hearted exchange and I wondered how indeed the kindergarten teachers would "teach" Thanksgiving. He balked at the idea of teaching a non-peaceful version of Thanksgiving: "They're just kindergarteners!" He also intoned that they did needed to teach about it because "it's history after all." 

So, before leaving for work that morning, I wrote his teacher an email....


Hi [teacher], 

Sorry for my brash comment about "teaching genocide in kindergarten." I was only half-kidding!! :-) 

I have served on our campus' American Indian advisory council and through the years learned that San Diego boasts active over 20 tribes. There is an unfortunate reality of kids thinking  that "Indians" are from the past.  The director, professor and my friend is Dr. Joely Proudfit who is a member of the Pachango band of  Luiseño Indians. 

I hope you don't mind if a take a minute to elaborate more about resources and ideas that I think are important…

It's American Indian History month (November). Lots of things happening for the community this month: 

While this is for older students, I am hoping that the myth of peaceful exchange at Plymouth Rock will at least be presented with some historical accuracy. :-)

Below are some of the lessons we will be teaching at home….

As you mentioned, in the past, parents at the school who were American Indian were upset that the school used feather headdresses. I would object as well. We are not American Indian but we do not support cultural appropriation. In our family, we do discuss tough issues — such as deportation and racism — these are things that affect us and our family members. 

I understand that as a kindergarten teacher you have a lot on your plate!! I truly appreciate you and your work. 

I hope that you and your team / the educators at the school will consider the historical accuracy of Thanksgiving and the CURRENT conditions / models for American Indians in our region. 

Thanks! Marisol 

PS — Please feel free to share this email (and the essays below) with your colleagues if you wish. :-)

by Jacqueline Keeler

I celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving.

This may surprise those people who wonder what Native Americans think of this official U.S. celebration of the survival of early arrivals in a European invasion that culminated in the death of 10 to 30 million native people.

Thanksgiving to me has never been about Pilgrims. When I was six, my mother, a woman of the Dineh nation, told my sister and me not to sing "Land of the Pilgrim's pride" in "America the Beautiful." Our people, she said, had been here much longer and taken much better care of the land. We were to sing "Land of the Indian's pride" instead.

I was proud to sing the new lyrics in school, but I sang softly. It was enough for me to know the difference. At six, I felt I had learned something very important. As a child of a Native American family, you are part of a very select group of survivors, and I learned that my family possessed some "inside" knowledge of what really happened when those poor, tired masses came to our homes.
When the Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock, they were poor and hungry -- half of them died within a few months from disease and hunger. When Squanto, a Wampanoag man, found them, they were in a pitiful state. He spoke English, having traveled to Europe, and took pity on them. Their English crops had failed. The native people fed them through the winter and taught them how to grow their food.

These were not merely "friendly Indians." They had already experienced European slave traders raiding their villages for a hundred years or so, and they were wary -- but it was their way to give freely to those who had nothing. 

Among many of our peoples, showing that you can give without holding back is the way to earn respect. Among the Dakota, my father's people, they say, when asked to give, "Are we not Dakota and alive?" It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all -- the exact opposite of the system we live in now, which is based on selling, not giving.

To the Pilgrims, and most English and European peoples, the Wampanoags were heathens, and of the Devil. They saw Squanto not as an equal but as an instrument of their God to help his chosen people, themselves.

Since that initial sharing, Native American food has spread around the world. Nearly 70 percent of all crops grown today were originally cultivated by Native American peoples. I sometimes wonder what they ate in Europe before they met us. Spaghetti without tomatoes? Meat and potatoes without potatoes? And at the "first Thanksgiving" the Wampanoags provided most of the food -- and signed a treaty granting Pilgrims the right to the land at Plymouth, the real reason for the first Thanksgiving.

What did the Europeans give in return? Within 20 years European disease and treachery had decimated the Wampanoags. Most diseases then came from animals that Europeans had domesticated. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, one of the great killers of our people, spread through gifts of blankets used by infected Europeans. Some estimate that diseases accounted for a death toll reaching 90 percent in some Native American communities. By 1623, Mather the elder, a Pilgrim leader, was giving thanks to his God for destroying the heathen savages to make way "for a better growth," meaning his people.

In stories told by the Dakota people, an evil person always keeps his or her heart in a secret place separate from the body. The hero must find that secret place and destroy the heart in order to stop the evil.

I see, in the "First Thanksgiving" story, a hidden Pilgrim heart. The story of that heart is the real tale than needs to be told. What did it hold? Bigotry, hatred, greed, self-righteousness? We have seen the evil that it caused in the 350 years since. Genocide, environmental devastation, poverty, world wars, racism.

Where is the hero who will destroy that heart of evil? I believe it must be each of us. Indeed, when I give thanks this Thursday and I cook my native food, I will be thinking of this hidden heart and how my ancestors survived the evil it caused.
Because if we can survive, with our ability to share and to give intact, then the evil and the good will that met that Thanksgiving day in the land of the Wampanoag will have come full circle.

And the healing can begin.

Jacqueline Keeler, a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Sioux works with the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, California. Her work has appeared in Winds of Change, an American Indian journal.

You had mentioned the importance of history and I agree...

To have been delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1970

Three hundred fifty years after the Pilgrims began their invasion of the land of the Wampanoag, their "American" descendants planned an anniversary celebration. Still clinging to the white schoolbook myth of friendly relations between their forefathers and the Wampanoag, the anniversary planners thought it would be nice to have an Indian make an appreciative and complimentary speech at their state dinner. Frank James was asked to speak at the celebration. He accepted. The planners, however , asked to see his speech in advance of the occasion, and it turned out that Frank James' views — based on history rather than mythology — were not what the Pilgrims' descendants wanted to hear. Frank James refused to deliver a speech written by a public relations person. Frank James did not speak at the anniversary celebration. If he had spoken, this is what he would have said:

I speak to you as a man -- a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction ("You must succeed - your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod community!"). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and sisters, have painfully overcome, and to some extent we have earned the respect of our community. We are Indians first - but we are termed "good citizens." Sometimes we are arrogant but only because society has pressured us to be so.

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you - celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.

Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt's Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry.

Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened in the last 300 years? History gives us facts and there were atrocities; there were broken promises - and most of these centered around land ownership. Among ourselves we understood that there were boundaries, but never before had we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned. Only ten years later, when the Puritans came, they treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting the souls of the so-called "savages." Although the Puritans were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any other "witch."

And so down through the years there is record after record of Indian lands taken and, in token, reservations set up for him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain. This the Indian could not understand; for to him, land was survival, to farm, to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after incident, where the white man sought to tame the "savage" and convert him to the Christian ways of life. The early Pilgrim settlers led the Indian to believe that if he did not behave, they would dig up the ground and unleash the great epidemic again.

The white man used the Indian's nautical skills and abilities. They let him be only a seaman -- but never a captain. Time and time again, in the white man's society, we Indians have been termed "low man on the totem pole."

Has the Wampanoag really disappeared? There is still an aura of mystery. We know there was an epidemic that took many Indian lives - some Wampanoags moved west and joined the Cherokee and Cheyenne. They were forced to move. Some even went north to Canada! Many Wampanoag put aside their Indian heritage and accepted the white man's way for their own survival. There are some Wampanoag who do not wish it known they are Indian for social or economic reasons.

What happened to those Wampanoags who chose to remain and live among the early settlers? What kind of existence did they live as "civilized" people? True, living was not as complex as life today, but they dealt with the confusion and the change. Honesty, trust, concern, pride, and politics wove themselves in and out of their [the Wampanoags'] daily living. Hence, he was termed crafty, cunning, rapacious, and dirty.

History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood.

The white man in the presence of the Indian is still mystified by his uncanny ability to make him feel uncomfortable. This may be the image the white man has created of the Indian; his "savageness" has boomeranged and isn't a mystery; it is fear; fear of the Indian's temperament!

High on a hill, overlooking the famed Plymouth Rock, stands the statue of our great Sachem, Massasoit. Massasoit has stood there many years in silence. We the descendants of this great Sachem have been a silent people. The necessity of making a living in this materialistic society of the white man caused us to be silent. Today, I and many of my people are choosing to face the truth. We ARE Indians!

Although time has drained our culture, and our language is almost extinct, we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of Massachusetts. We may be fragmented, we may be confused. Many years have passed since we have been a people together. Our lands were invaded. We fought as hard to keep our land as you the whites did to take our land away from us. We were conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many cases, and wards of the United States Government, until only recently.

Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the woodland paths and sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam highways and roads. We are uniting We're standing not in our wigwams but in your concrete tent. We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we'll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us.

We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep us on our knees. What has happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane America, a more Indian America, where men and nature once again are important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and brotherhood prevail.

You the white man are celebrating an anniversary. We the Wampanoags will help you celebrate in the concept of a beginning. It was the beginning of a new life for the Pilgrims. Now, 350 years later it is a beginning of a new determination for the original American: the American Indian.

There are some factors concerning the Wampanoags and other Indians across this vast nation. We now have 350 years of experience living amongst the white man. We can now speak his language. We can now think as a white man thinks. We can now compete with him for the top jobs. We're being heard; we are now being listened to. The important point is that along with these necessities of everyday living, we still have the spirit, we still have the unique culture, we still have the will and, most important of all, the determination to remain as Indians. We are determined, and our presence here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning of the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to regain the position in this country that is rightfully ours.

September 10, 1970