I arrived in this country on November 26th, 1978. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. So I did not get to celebrate this uniquely American holiday until the following November. By then I was a senior at Bellaire High School in Texas. Earlier that month, the American embassy in Tehran was attacked and many people were taken hostage. Being an Iranian was not a good thing! I escaped a lot of the harassment and name calling because most of my classmates assumed that I was Hispanic and I did not correct them. By the time they would find out that I was in fact "Eye-rain-ian", they knew me enough to know that I did not support violence and aggression of any kind. One of those classmates was Sheri. The week before Thanksgiving she asked me how I planned to celebrate it. I mentioned that I didn't know how. She was shocked! She insisted that I must go to her house. She lived with her grandparents and described their Thanksgiving meal as enormous! On Thanksgiving day my mother dropped me off at their house. Sheri and her family were very welcoming to me. It's just now, thirty some years later, that I realize what open hearts and minds they had. Sheri knew me as a person and did not categorize me based on what she was hearing and seeing in the media at the time. Sheri herself was displaced. One day she told me it was because she had been abused. I didn't really know what that word meant. Now I do. Maybe at some level she understood my situation, being out of place, trying to adjust to a new way of doing things, trying to belong.
To this day, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Free from pressures of gift giving and decorating, we come together as families, blood relationship not always a pre-requisite. I see immigrants from all places embrace Thanksgiving and add their own flavors to it. I always ask my mother to make Shirin-Polo. It's a rice dish with raisins, almonds and slivers of orange peel. I think of it as a Persian stuffing for the turkey.
I usually tell the story of my first Thanksgiving at Sheri's house when I talk about the time I learned how culturally we have different notions of what an enormous meal is. At my house, whenever we had guests, my mother would fix enough food to have leftovers for a week. If the platters were cleaned off at the end of the meal, she would worry that she had let her guests down by not preparing enough food. At Sheri's house, there was enough food: a slice of turkey breast for each person, casserole sized dishes of macaroni and cheese and green beans, a basket of rolls. Enough food but very different from what I was used to calling "enormous". Over time though, I have come to realize that this is really a story about true friendship, about letting "your heart burn with loving kindness for all those who cross your path"*.
|Thanksgiving meal at my mother's house|
*taken from a quote by Bahá'u'lláh