(Published in The Record of Hackensack, NJ. on November 24, 1993)
You may not notice it by the way Latinos constantly ask for equal treatment in this society, or by the way we fight against discrimination and demand respect for our civil rights. But tomorrow in Latino homes throughout North Jersey, you can be sure many people will celebrate Thanksgiving by saying “gracias.”
It's human nature. It happens to everyone. When we speak of the negative, sometimes we forget to mention the positive. And when Latinos complain, sometimes we give the impression that we are not grateful.
But not tomorrow, not on “el día de acción de gracias.” We may celebrate Thanksgiving a little differently, especially in the dishes offered at the dinner table, but you should know that most Latinos use this opportunity to give thanks for the privilege of living in the greatest country in the world.
When I was host of a call-in show on Spanish-language radio, my favorite program of the year was on Thanksgiving. That was the night when the callers would share their feelings of gratitude with songs, poems, prayers, and long lists of reasons they are thankful. The program was so moving that some people cried as they spoke of their love for this country.
When we think of the reasons why we came here, the circumstances that forced us to leave our homelands, we know we have a lot for which to be grateful. This is the reason why we identify so well with the Pilgrims, perhaps even better than Americans of several generations, people who take their freedom of religion, expression, and opportunity for granted.
For many Latinos and other immigrants, who were denied that freedom in their own homelands, this American custom called Thanksgiving is a welcome tradition. And for those who came here illegally, struggling even harder to enter and survive in the United States, identifying with the Pilgrims is even easier. After all, those who landed and settled in Plymouth Rock in 1620 were among the country's first illegal aliens.
But Latino pride makes Thanksgiving in the barrios a little different. Those who know true North American history know we have our own Pilgrims for which to be proud and thankful – the Spanish explorers who came more than a century before the Mayflower. And those who keep up with local news know we should also be thankful because immigrant-bashers lost an election in Park Ridge.
For those who fled from totalitarian regimes, there are reasons to be thankful, especially when they can look back and see democracy flourishing and when the continent's two remaining dictatorships, in Cuba and Haiti, may soon disappear. Next Thanksgiving perhaps Latinos could celebrate the first time in history when all the Americas are free and democratic.
For those who came here to escape political or drug-related violence, there is reason to be thankful for the improving conditions back home. And for those who came searching for better economic opportunities, there are gracias to be given for the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, because it gives hope for improving the living conditions of the friends and relatives they left behind.
For those who have experienced economic hardships, at home and upon arriving in this country, Thanksgiving becomes a time to look around and see the poor and homeless people who may not be spending a happy Thanksgiving. It lives up to its true potential by reawakening our spirit of charity.
Our complaints may have led you to believe we are ungrateful. But although our turkey may have a slightly different seasoning and our meal will also include the delicacies of our own culture, you should know that tomorrow, Latinos will be saying “gracias” – just for being your fellow Americans.