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Thanksgiving is a time for healing

Friday, November 18, 2016

The national holiday of Thanksgiving came to be at a time when the United States was, literally, at its most divided: in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. When Abraham Lincoln created the holiday by declaration, he stressed how crucial it is to look beyond the strife and darkness that has settled upon the nation and to reflect on the things for which we are – or should be – grateful.
That’s advice that we can all use right now… especially when it comes to the rift that has been created over immigration during the last few years. From being on the cusp of sweeping immigration reform to heated rhetoric about wall-building and screening based on religion, while Congress stonewalls confirming a new Supreme Court justice, our national stance on immigration is in a precarious place.
It's time to step back and gain a little perspective. When it comes to immigration, fewer holidays are more appropriate for such reflection than Thanksgiving.
After the Civil War, immigration was the driving force behind U.S. economic growth and westward expansion. Six years after the end of the war, Sara Josepha Hale, saw Thanksgiving as way to heal the nation and welcome newcomers to the United States:
“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. “
Even the way we celebrate – and the myths that surround – what we culturally think of as a “traditional” Thanksgiving, go to the very roots of our country’s immigrant nature. English pilgrims fled religious persecution in their home country and immigrated to 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. Hopefully, the new administration agrees.

Happy Thanksgiving, from our families to yours!

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