Except for the Native Americans, We are all Immigrants

“Except for the Native Americans, all of us are a nation of immigrants”

Aboard the Mayflower on the way to Plymouth, there were 110 passengers. Upon arrival, 50 survived a harsh winter and sat for Thanksgiving in 1621. They relied on the Native Americans, who helped them find enough food to live. They became known as pilgrims. By the time they celebrated the first Thanksgiving, the Puritans were less concerned about converting the Indians to Christianity and more about thanking them for their assistance.

Thanksgiving is the most truly American Holiday

This story makes Thanksgiving the most truly American religious holiday, one that people of all faiths can celebrate, says Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Jonathan Miller.

“It’s become so much a part of the religious, spiritual and cultural life in America,” Miller said. “Even when Americans are living overseas, of all different faiths, they celebrate Thanksgiving. We do it because we’re tied together as Americans.”

The pilgrims viewed the first Thanksgiving through a prism of tragedy. They also had learned a lesson in religious tolerance. They relied on the Native Americans they considered heathens to help them survive, then joined them in a meal of Thanksgiving. Clergy of various faiths view Thanksgiving as the one truly ecumenical religious and family holiday for all Americans to share.

“To give thanks is a part of every tradition,” said the Rev. Sarah Shelton, pastor of Baptist Church of the Covenant.

“It has to do with food, it has to do with family and it has to do with memories,” Miller said.

“It’s a holiday that can embrace everybody,” said the Rev. Steve Jones, pastor of Southside Baptist Church. “It takes everybody in. The arms of Thanksgiving are wide open. There’s no doctrine or theology, other than thankfulness, and everyone’s got something to be thankful for and someone to be beholden to.”

The story of the pilgrims settling Massachusetts is also a story of immigration to America, a story many can relate to.

“Except for the Native Americans, all of us are a nation of immigrants,” Miller said.

Muslim immigrants to America have increasingly begun to use their Thanksgiving to cook turkey with family, said Raed Awad, imam for the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center. “It’s a day off, a national holiday. I know families that get together, cook and eat. Many of them cook turkey.” Muslims should be thankful to God on all days, he said. “We focus on that throughout the year,” Awad said. But perhaps Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful to each other, and to this country, for our gift of freedom and survival. And a day to remember that -wether it was by boat, plane, or on foot- most of us either came here as immigrants ourselves, or via an ancestor, to start a new life.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Harlan York & Associates.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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