Thanksgiving and Ferguson: Mixed generation Black immigrant family’s holiday meal

by Nunu Kidane

As thanksgiving approaches, many of us are receiving messages that reflect on what we should be thankful for.

Coming on the heels of the grand jury decision on Michael Brown, it is obvious some of us may not be feeling particularly blessed and thankful, living in a system that threatens our boys – our lives.

It is however a much needed break from work, school and time to spend with family, community and loved ones. For those who are lucky, there will be plenty of food to share. Others struggle to afford the bare minimum for heating and food expenses.

Family Eating Thanksgiving DinnerFor my community, our Thanksgiving meal preparations are as mixed as our identities and the stories that find our journey in this country. While my children expect the Thanksgiving meal to include turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy and other “traditional” staples of their American identities, it does begin to define what else this holiday meal is for us.

As the family gathers in our home, you can hear English spoken as often as Amharic, Tigrinia and Swedish. We are Eritreans, many born in Ethiopia, who have been part of the new diaspora, proud to call ourselves African and/or African American. The meals therefore include what is traditional to us – injera and doro watt (hot chicken stew prepared with spices from home), starting off with Swedish appetizers and finishing with shots of grapa and Italian deserts.

The older generation generally stays away from the turkey and all American dishes – perplexed by the notion of mixing sweet cranberry relish with savory dishes. Our children, however, cannot imagine a Thanksgiving meal that does not include the “essentials” plus macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, baked yams and peach cobbler.

The young are mindful of their heritage and enjoy the injera and stew just as well as the turkey. When it comes to saying what we are thankful for at this family table, however, they are cautious not to “spoil” the festive mood by mentioning their fears and anger about the grand jury decision and the fire that continues to burn in Ferguson – not just the buildings but the fire in the hearts of the Black community across this country.

Coming on the heels of the grand jury decision on Michael Brown, it is obvious some of us may not be feeling particularly blessed and thankful, living in a system that threatens our boys – our lives.

These young boys, born of us to this country, look at images of Michael Brown and see themselves. They know how real the threat is as they walk a fine balance of being an African and living as a young, Black man in America.

They hold their bitterness and anger or whisper them only among one another, because they know these sentiments don’t resonate with their parents and older generations. Their immigrant parents continue to hold beliefs about America as the land that gave them sanctuary when they fled war. They believe deeply in the ideals America projects of fairness and justice, and they reject or deny the reality that it is for our Black boys.

For my community, our Thanksgiving meal preparations are as mixed as our identities and the stories that find our journey in this country.

Like all families across this nation that mix generations of American kids with immigrant parents and grandparents, the story is mixed and at times complicated. There are many who will see this and other holidays as a time to convene our families and see the value and beauty of who we are as Americans – despite everything.

Nunu Kidane is an activist who works in Oakland focusing on generational and diaspora bridge building with transnational dialogue on race and identity: African Diaspora Dialogues. For more information, visit www.africandiasporadialogues.net.