Nov 27, 2021 Letters
Guyanese in the US have been in the thick of the celebration of American Thanksgiving holiday that was observed on Thursday November 25 but will be carried over thru Sunday. Thanksgiving Day is a historical celebration in the U.S going back to the 1600s since the early settlement of North America by Europeans – the Europeans gave thanks for the harvest to the natives for helping them to grow food and building shelters.
It is a national holiday, a kind of a spiritual day (without denomination) observed on the fourth Thursday of every November with businesses and schools closed in recess for an extended weekend. The festival sets up a state of mind for the Christmas and Hanukah (Jewish) holidays, which is a month later.
Thanksgiving is a national mainstream festival in which almost everyone partakes. It is a holiday in the US in which all, regardless of immigration status and religious or ethnic background, observe. It is a long four-day weekend. Almost all businesses are closed Thursday and Friday except for some industrial fast food outlets that would open half day Thursday and re-open on Friday. Over fifty million have been expected to travel this week for the holiday; some workers and students take the entire week off from activities to spend time with families or friends. There are family reunions, church service, feasts, and charitable offerings. And some use the occasion as a vacation.
Guyanese Americans are counting their blessings giving thanks to America for welcoming them over the last fifty years and for enjoying a better quality of life than in their home country. US Immigration to Guyanese and other non-White people was opened up in 1965. And Guyanese started coming to America right after independence in 1966 when several thousands, with a majority being Indo-Guyanese, applied for student and visitors’ visas and after arrival decided to remain behind in America, violating their visas as foreign students and tourists. Guyanese emigrated to America mostly because of political reasons and the pull factors of a higher wages and a better standard of living in the US. Some Guyanese also came as skilled workers in health fields (nursing) and as accounts. Since then, generation after generation of immigrants have celebrated American Thanksgiving.
Guyanese and other immigrants have embraced this annual American tradition in giving thanks with prayer services and by offering charities with the poorer sections of society. Some have donated to organisations that help the less fortunate. Some hosted dinners over the last weekend. Some gave away turkeys and other foods that are served for the festival. Last Saturday, the Indo-Caribbean federation hosted a breakfast and lunch for hundreds of Guyanese seniors at a Guyanese catering restaurant (Hafiz) on Rockaway and 123rd Street. And as they do with all other festivals, they celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday in their own unique way with their traditional cuisine and drinks.
Every wave of immigrants, including recent arrivals like the large Guyanese community (from Guyana and born in the US and elsewhere), estimated at around 800K), that have been coming since 1960s, have joined in the celebration by adding their own ethnic flavour giving thanks and to the traditional cuisine, music, drinks, and entertainment (Chatney, Bollywood, etc.).
America has been kind and receptive to Guyanese and Caribbean immigrants enabling their rapid rise in income having their own homes, vehicles, businesses, and post-secondary education. Many even work at multiple jobs and pursue higher education. Many work at prestigious positions at medical facilities and as engineers and educators.
Guyanese and other Caribbean people are for the most part success stories with one of the highest income groups in the U.S contributing a lot more in taxes than in the benefits they receive. Indo-Caribbeans, for example, have a median family income of US$80K annually as per 2020. Many have become successful entrepreneurs in a very short time after arrival and many invest on Wall Street stocks. Many own multiple buildings and land. And many have joined the ranks of professionals (in medicine, law, engineering, and computer technology) an in real estate as well as in insurance with some of the highest salaries in the nation.
Guyanese and other Caribbean people, as indeed most Americans, view Thanksgiving as an occasion for family reunion and dinners. Relatives normally take turn hosting dinner or lunch over the four days period from Thursday to Sunday. Giving is part of the Caribbean culture. And people donate food to shelters and host dinners for the unfortunate. Others donate foods or labor at pantries or join in helping feed the less fortunate. Their assistance helps to ease social problems such as hunger, poverty and homelessness in the city. Churches also host dinners for the poor and homeless. By observing the festival, Guyanese are participating in a mainstream American celebration in the same manner that they celebrate their own traditional festivals such as Phagwah, Deepavalli, Eid, Qurbani, Shivratri, Youman Nabi, Christmas, etc. They want to give thanks for the progress they have made in America. They are contributing in making America a better place to live and sharing their wealth and giving back to the society to which they owe their success.
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