We have been focusing a lot on this trip on the history of America. We went to Plymouth itself to understand the birth of America and its myths. Thanksgiving is of course the quintessential American holiday between the Pilgrims who came from England to build their own “city upon a hill” but barely could make it through the winter. The Wampanog tribe offered them food and together they had a feast sometime in November which we now celebrate as Thanksgiving.
We had a Thanksgiving unlike any other I have experienced in Hawaii. It reflects how far we have come—geographically and culturally—in our journey and as a nation. Hawaii is an interesting state, unlike any other, that prides itself on its diversity and openness. I had been here once previously for a conference on diversity due to the fact that whites are the minority here. The native Hawaiians and Asian-Americans make up the majority of the people. So what does a Thanksgiving in a context totally removed from Plymouth, white settlers, or sweet potatoes look like?
We were invited into the home of our Muslim friends, Saleem Ahmed, who immigrated here over thirty years ago from Pakistan, and his wife, a third-generation Hawaiian of Japan descent. They had invited a large and diverse group of friends from all over the world. We sat down with them and asked them about what Thanksgiving meant to them. One woman when asked about the Mayflower responded, “Oh yes, we have lovely flowers in May.” They were not familiar as such with the history of Thanksgiving, but when it came to the food, atmosphere, and family they were right on track. We feasted on turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, as well as some Pakistani kababs and Japanese dishes. We had a prayer at the beginning giving thanks to the Supreme Being, and then we sat discussing what we had been thankful for. For our team, we were thankful for the trip and the support from one another, but also homesick. For the people there, it was to be in a place like Hawaii, open, free, peaceful, welcoming, and to live the life they had. They were thankful to be American. That night we saw that the message and myth of Thanksgiving is powerful and that the details are less important than the values it stands for. Hawaii represented the culmination of a pluralistic, tolerant society in many ways and we were thankful to be there living out that dream.