Long Thanksgiving weekend ahead. And, yes, I do celebrate the holiday, if by "celebrate" you mean eat turkey, hang out with family, and watch the Dallas Cowboys. But since I pretty much work from home the concept of "taking the day off" is sort of moot. Ni modo...
Interesting discussion going on over at Guanabee.com where skeptical raza are furiously debating whether or not Thanksgiving is a "white" holiday, and thus, be definition, a dorky celebration open to scorn, befuddlement, and bemused Latino estrangement. Set aside for a moment what is meant by "white"-- since that's a whole semiotic and cultural thicket worthy of someone's ethnic studies dissertation and not a mere blog post -- but the issues raised in analyzing the holiday are, for me, fascinating.
First of all, Guanabee.com is great. I read it everyday. It makes me laugh. I love the tone. And even better, on occasion, amidst the well-written snark, funny Wilmer Valderrama put-downs, and comedically suspect right-wingish pokes at Latin American lefty strong men (Castro, Chavez, and Che), there emerges from the posts and comments section insight into All Things Brown and contemporary. The "Is Thansgiving White?" flareup, and the post's subsequent comments, a case in point.
The tendency by some of the commentators to reduce an American ritual circa 2007 as "white" is as lazy and simplistic as doc filmmaker Ken Burns reducing the discussion of race in this country as a Black/White thing. Thanksgiving, like most cultural events in the United States, is actually transformed by the ongoing Latino participation from its gringo, Norman Rockwell origins to something more complicated.
I mean, try telling a couple of biker-looking, 250 lb., 4th gen Tejano's standing in line at the HEB with their 20 packs of Bud Light and Tony Romo Cowboy jerseys as they stock up for the holiday that they are being "white." Thanksgiving for these vatos is a four-day weekend, Butterball turkey, Tia Nesta's pinto beans next to the cranberry sauce, from a can, and kicking back with tios, tias, and cousin Esperanza's gabacho boyfriend from college named Jeff, but he's cool, since his gringo throwing-arm is an athletic talent highly coveted during the annual touch football game held in the street every year after dinner.
Raza Thansgiving Anxiety, I'm thinking, doesn't break down into a Brown/White thing, but rather, I suspect, into an immigrant vs. homegrown thing. And being "immigrant" -- as old school Nuyoricans and 3rd and 4th gen Mexican Americans all across Aztlan will tell you -- doesn't necessarily define all that is to be Latino. Granted, that's not to say the sight of a giant Underdog balloon at the Macy's parade probably isn't a bit strange to a Oaxacan food vendor newly transplanted to New York.
(It must be like how I
felt when was in D.F. during the World Cup and witnessed hordes of happy drunk Mexican soccer fans scampering up the El Ángel de la Independencia to pee on the monument's eternal flame. Bewildered. Or the way I
feel when forced to watch El Chavo de Ocho
at the laundromat on Sunset, I mean, I understand it's supposed to be a comedy --
actors mug for the camera and a laugh track points out the punchlines
-- but for warm and fuzzy childhood memories of after school TV delight
give me Gilligan's Island any day.)
But back to turkey day. Ultimately, there is value in the scrutiny of Thanksgiving. Kind of makes you think about U.S holidays in general and why we recognize the events and how we celebrate them. Is Memorial Day a "white" holiday given the overwhelming number of raza veterans dying for a country that for years discriminated against them? Is the Fourth of July a "white" holiday? How about Cinco de Mayo, especially as practiced and sponsored by U.S. beer companies. And finally, of course, a consistent immigrant observation/critique of Thanksgiving points out the problematic Pilgrim - Indian origins of the holiday given the subsequent genocide of Native Americans. What's up with that?, they might say. A useful question. And while I don't have the answer, at the end of the day, I welcome the examination.
Originally posted November, 2007.