Thanksgiving and immigration
Monday, November 23, 2015
The United States became the first country in the world to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving when, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday. At the time, the U.S. was horribly divided, at war with itself. Lincoln saw the importance of looking beyond all the strife and darkness to see the things for which we are truly grateful – and taking time to reflect on them.
Ever since, Thanksgiving has become inexorably intertwined with the story of U.S. immigration. In the post-Civil War era, U.S. economic growth and westward expansion was fueled largely by immigrants, who were flocking to the United States in the first great wave of immigration.
Sara Jospeha Hale, in 1871, saw Thanksgiving as way to heal the nation, as well as welcome and integrate newcomers to this country:
“The Influx of foreigners into our country is prodigious. Not only by the natural increase of population but by immigration. To bind together the discordant nationalities into one American brother, what strand so potent as Thanksgiving? Let everyone who claims the name American, wherever he may be – in the old world or the new, on the land or the sea – unite to commemorate the day. It will be stronger that the laws or armies to make our nation one. “
The way we celebrate the modern holiday evokes one of the country’s most beloved -- and most controversial -- immigrant stories: that of the English pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution in their home country, and coming ashore on what is now Massachusetts in 1620. For the Native Americans who were already there, the story is a tragedy; for the descendants of the Mayflower’s passengers, along with every wave of immigrants since, it is a story of triumph, perseverance and success.
Focusing on the intercultural cooperation between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, the story in many ways represents an immigration ideal. Newcomers arrive in this country, and with the help of those already here, survive, thrive and become an integral thread in the American tapestry. This, in turn, resulted in a stronger nation built upon influences, ideas and talent from around the world.
This is true of immigration, at its best, today.
We are a country that is largely composed of immigrants. We continue to rely on talented individuals from around the world to drive innovation, entrepreneurship and the U.S. economy. As Americans, this is not something to fear. Rather, it should be celebrated and counted among things for which to be grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving, from our families to yours!