By Anita Doberman: Columnist
Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday I grew up with — in Italy we obviously don’t celebrate it, but I quickly took to it when I immigrated to this country. In fact, even as a young college student I looked forward to this special day.
The first few Thanksgiving I celebrated were new and colorful, filled with the experiences many other immigrants have. Living in New York City, I celebrated Thanksgiving with many of my friends’ families who were from all over the world and learned about the traditional meal and the unique additions each family brought.
One of my closest friends was Chinese-American and her parents always invited the international students and told us about Thanksgiving over delicious Chinese noodles, different types of chicken dishes and sweet delicacies I had never heard of. Another one of my friends, from Israel, added Middle Eastern falafels and rice dishes to the traditional Thanksgiving meal and played wonderful music all afternoon. These feasts were always fun for me and we often shared stories about our home countries and our new lives here, usually agreeing that while things can be tough when you start new, we were grateful for the freedom we enjoy in America.
After I married my husband, and we started moving around as a military family, I experienced different Thanksgiving celebrations. I guess you could say I finally got a taste of a traditional all-American thanksgiving meal. We usually celebrated with other military families and had delicious turkey, mashed potatoes, casseroles, sweet potatoes, pies etc. The food was to die for. However, during those years, I became acutely aware of my foreign born status, especially when friends asked me whether it was strange for me to celebrate Thanksgiving, being a “foreigner and all”.
I usually answered by pointing out that for an immigrant like me, someone who has made a new life in this land, Thanksgiving is all the more special because I can appreciate the difference between living in a place with so many opportunities and other countries.
I admit that at first I was (very) annoyed by people pointing out the obvious and wanted to blend in like everyone else. But over the years
I have matured. I gave up trying to be something that I am not; I have integrated the different aspects of my background and present life and on this holiday I am thankful for my Italian-American identity. I welcome people’s questions and observations, they don’t bother me anymore. I know they are well intentioned and I gladly share my background. I also add my pasta dishes to our Thanksgiving meal — always a big hit with everyone.
I don’t think I could have gotten to this comfortable place without the people I met on my journey. On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all those wonderful individuals, immigrants, new Americans, those who can trace their ancestry all the way back to the Mayflower, and everyone in between, for having shared their Thanksgiving with me, for having taught me about this holiday and for having helped me realize that differences can enrich our American experience.
And of course, I am thankful for our military men and women and for my husband, who once again won’t be with us, but who is always in our hearts.