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Road to acceptance not always smooth

Road to acceptance not always smooth Road to acceptance not always smooth

When we think of Thanksgiving, most of us invoke happy images of friendly folks gathering for a bountiful feast.
Our traditional interpretations of this celebration go back to the early days of our nation in 1621. We delight in pictures of Pilgrims dressed in black garb sharing a joyous harvest meal with Native Americans in deerskin hides.
But, it was not all fun and games between the locals and the newcomers from a foreign land. I don’t imagine the Indians were standing on the shore shouting welcoming messages to the ships that arrived from Europe. Rather, they probably huddled fearfully together in the woods. The native inhabitants of the region around Plymouth Colony were the various tribes of the Wampanoag people, who had called this their home for some 10,000 years. The people arriving on the ships looked different, talked in a foreign language and behaved differently.
Both newcomers and long-time residents were filled with fear, distrust and defensive behavior. The weary Pilgrims stood on the ship’s deck and gazed at the new landscape uncertain as to what was hidden behind the lush forests. The glimpses they had of dark-skinned, half-dressed natives frightened them and they were ready to load their muskets.
The first European immigrants were not farmers, and starvation was a constant threat. The land was cold and harsh, and their housing inadequate. During that first winter, only 53 of the original 132 who landed survived.
It wasn’t until famine and disease had almost decimated the newcomers that they looked for help from the unfamiliar inhabitants. It was the native Americans who taught them how to farm, live off the land and survive. It took years of working together to realize they benefited from new ideas and compromises. Diversity helped them acclimate to a new life. However, it was no spontaneous ‘love feast’ between immigrants and natives.
During the next few decades, disputes arose as the settlers took over more and more land.
In 1675, a conflict called Prince Philip’s War took the lives of some 5,000 inhabitants of New England. After such missteps, they found that working together gave them a better chance of living a good life. That is a thing to celebrate even today.
In 2017, the world is full of unrest. Millions of people are moving about our planet looking for a better way of life. Some are fleeing war or persecution. Others are seeking adequate living conditions and new opportunities. We face many of the same dilemmas faced by our ancestors hundreds of years ago.
Who should we fear? Who should be allowed into our home place, the United States?
I recently had a wonderful experience at the annual Diwali celebration by immigrants and citizens from the country of India. I was privileged to sit next to Tyler Graves. He is the grandson of our own Ruby Rooksby who worked at this newspaper for 40-plus years.
Ty grew up in Southern Indiana and is Hoosier through and through, but he said that, since marrying his wife of Indian heritage, his world view has changed. When I asked him what these changes were, he motioned with his hand and said, ‘Look at these folks at this celebration. They are tough men and women.’
His word choice surprised me as we often think of brawn and power when using the word ‘tough.’ He explained that he has ‘watched for 10 years a new culture committed to a belief that going to the USA was the right thing to do for themselves and their families. Even though they had the natural fears we would all have when transporting ourselves from one culture to another, they had the will and commitment to make it work. They left everything and the comforts of the familiar behind. It takes courage and bravery to do that. They were and are still very motivated to improve everyone’s living standards. They are entrepreneurs and a large percentage of our health care providers. It is their stories that I use to explain to my kids what toughness is all about. India is a beautiful country, and the Indian people are loving, loyal, hard-working gifts to our state and country, but never underestimate how much toughness it took for them to follow their dream.’
Unfortunately, we still repeat the actions of our history starting with the Native Americans and the Pilgrims. It is not always a smooth road to acceptance, appreciation and a new community. Ty’s Texas-born wife, Sandhya, was told to ‘go back home’ to India more than once in the past year.
Are we welcoming and inclusive to those who come from a different national background or do we think they all ought to look and act as our forefathers did?
I do believe our todays are based on what happened in the past, and that is why I recall the story of our first Thanksgiving feast.
It wasn’t all a bed of roses in 1621 and it won’t be in 2018. We need courage, bravery and an open mind to the values that others bring to our lives.
So, this Thanksgiving, if you experience something that is a bit out of the ordinary, examine it, discuss it, maybe try it and grow with your new expanded awareness.
Happy Thanksgiving with all the trimmings.

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