Boston: Celebrating the Immigrant Family

December 16th, 2010

Thanksgiving is a special American holiday, a time to reflect and celebrate the blessings of family and friends. Most Americans, regardless of religion or background, celebrate this holiday by sharing a traditional meal, honoring the first Thanksgiving of the pilgrims and the welcome they received as new immigrants on these Massachusetts shores.

MIRA‘s 4th Annual Thanksgiving luncheon at the State House brought together a rich tapestry of immigrant families from diverse backgrounds. Over 425 hundred people shared a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Invited speakers from the community gave moving testimonies on their journeys to America. The Great Hall resonated with the stories of struggles and achievements in re-uniting with families from distant shores and becoming American families.

Sophea Srun spoke about her experiences coming to America with her husband and daughter as refugees from war-torn Cambodia twenty years ago. She is proud of her American citizenship, and grateful that her husband was finally given his American citizenship this year. “I have learned about American culture, holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I have not lost my own culture, because we also celebrate Cambodian New Year. This helped me to feel at home.”

Ridha Jaber Al Saadawi came from Iraq when he was a teenager. Now in his thirties, Rhidha has spent all his adult life here, and has gone through the long process of obtaining his American citizenship. He has passed his test, and has been waiting to take his oath for four years. He is unable to travel to see his family and his aging mother while he is stuck in his current limbo of administrative delays. “I realize here there is freedom, it’s a great country, so I decided to stay here and start my life here,” he stated. Al Saadawi summarized his desire succinctly, “I love this country and I want to be part of it.”

Jacob Smith-Yang, the Executive Director of Massachusetts Asian-Pacific Islander for Health served as the Master of Ceremonies and shared his own personal story:

“The most memorable Thanksgiving we had was when my 73 year-old grandmother, my Ama, finally became a naturalized U.S. Citizen after three tries. When she went to the exam, she was not doing so well even on her third try, but the examiner looked at her notebook and saw all the answers she had written out and was able to understand how hard she was trying. Becoming a citizen was very important to her, and was very important for her sense of belonging in the United States, and it was a very moving Thanksgiving to have that happen.”

Immigrant families enjoyed the meal with a number of their state legislators and the former Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis and his wife Kitty.

Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) stated, “It does not matter whether one’s family celebrates Thanksgiving with rice, jalapenos, or curry. it’s not what you have for Thanksgiving, it’s who you have it with. All across America, we all want to be joined by our families over Thanksgiving. That’s what makes this holiday so special.”

Source: Edited MIRA press release, November 19, 2010.

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