My rage at this state of affairs consumes and numbs me. This is not the United States I know
When my family fled the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we arrived in the United States with little to show. We did not know English, had no family or friends in the country, and possessed zero job prospects. We escaped a war with just a blind hope that a life with dignity and security could be carved out in this new country.
The Kellys, a proudly Irish Catholic and Republican family, helped us find that.
I met the family when I was six years old. I was introduced to Mr and Mrs Kelly through their daughter, a sweet college student who was a volunteer ESL teacher in inner city Philadelphia. She had been teaching us English for a few months.
The Kellys were staunch conservatives. I remember Mrs Kelly coming over to our dilapidated apartment and mischievously talking to me about her wild and rebellious past. As I understood, this mainly referred to her being arrested during various anti-abortion marches. Mr Kelly was an avid huntsman, with a collection of guns that my parents, fresh from a war and refugee camp, found absolutely terrifying.
Looking back, it doesnt seem likely that this would be the family that in effect adopted us. Yet they did so with a warmth and gusto that still astounds and moves me. They invited us to every Christmas, Easter and birthday celebration. When my parents needed to apply for food stamps in north Philadelphia, Mr Kelly drove them to the center. He brought a gun, saying that you dont go to that part of town unprepared.
I cant say my parents were thrilled to be living in a city where certain neighborhoods were avoided as if they were war zones. It was shocking to them that Mr Kelly seemed ready for combat in a time of national peace. Even so, my parents also felt nothing but gratitude for the Kellys, who were eager to help us navigate this rugged new terrain. My parents had nothing, and the Kellys offered us the world they gave us a new family.
We did not stay on food stamps for long. Eventually, both of my parents learned English and found stable employment. We moved out of the city, adopted an evidently Irish golden retriever that we named Bridget, and my sister and I studied political science and computer engineering, respectively, at Ivy League universities. We wouldnt have been able to do any of that without the Americans that fully embraced and supported us.
This Thanksgiving, I will not be going to the Kellys, who, I must confess, I havent seen in some years. I am living abroad, and will be working late over the holiday. Earlier this week, I told my British partner that I was not particularly bothered about missing the dinner. In addition to being thousands of miles and hundreds of dollars away from home, the holiday was just not that big of a deal anymore.
To a degree, this is because of recent American politics, which has called for upsettingly and flagrantly racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic policies. This year, I have regularly wondered how my neighbors and former classmates could have voted for a head of state that seeks to dismantle the tenants of liberty and openness that are hallmarks of our country.
In one year, we have seen Trump attack protections offered by the Affordable Care Act, threaten nuclear war via bellicose tweets, and try to rob the country of its young and ambitious Dreamers. Immigrants are unabashedly targeted. The list goes on. African American sports players are now judged for peacefully kneeling in protest against police brutality. Meanwhile, sexual offenders are allowed to run along their merry way, and enjoy the perks of elected office.
It appears that the Statue of Liberty would rather redirect the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free to Canada or, better yet, further away to Germany. My rage at this state of affairs consumes and then numbs me. Living abroad, I cant help but wonder how I could return to America without drowning in disappointment and anger.
Of course, America has never really been a completely accepting and egalitarian nation. It has a wretched history of slavery, and of treating women, non-whites, and refugees as second-class citizens. Thanksgiving itself is tainted by a history of disease, enslavement and deception.
And so, I was ready to skip the loaded and inconvenient holiday this year without much fanfare.
That is, until I spoke to my mother.
This year, my family is hosting a low-key Thanksgiving, inviting over some local Bosnian Americans and my sisters college friend from Afghanistan. In past years, they have had larger feasts, with immigrants from Japan, Kenya, and Russia joining our table. Many have returned year after year.
My familys dinner table is an international summit of sorts, with individuals from around the globe convening to discuss how wonderful the concept of cranberry sauce on mashed potatoes is, and how there is nothing as scrumptious as Trader Joes cornbread. Every year, my parents warmly welcome those who have never celebrated the holiday before, or are too far from their families to do so elsewhere.
And the reason they do that, at least in part, is because of the generosity and openness they have seen at the Kellys Thanksgiving meals that pro-life, gun-toting, hardline Republican family whose party often espouses a very closed, myopic and anti-immigrant agenda today.
The Kellys showed my family how to celebrate Thanksgiving properly with unfettered and non-partisan generosity, love and kindness. To me, they are proof that there is a humanity and openness in the American people that transcends politics.
When I celebrate Thanksgiving today, I will express gratitude that this family took mine in during our darkest time. I will remember this as America is going through one of its own.
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