With the holidays approaching, I know that this time can be incredibly difficult for people who are far from their loved ones. Many may also choose to protest Thanksgiving altogether to show their solidarity with people indigenous to this land.
I used to be one of those people. My college education woke me up to the lies that my elementary school teachers told me of how Pilgrims and Indians sat peacefully together sharing food as we decorated our paper costumes with feathers and buckles for our parents to encapsulate in photo frames. (Remember those days?)
This wakeup call was so bad in my late teens/early twenties, that I refused to eat on Thanksgiving for several years! (I was also a dedicated vegetarian at the time.) That was until my mother yelled at me to cut it out, and told me her food was made with LOVE.
As an immigrant, she was never taught U.S. history and only knew survival. One of those ways of surviving was by learning U.S. customs, from putting up Christmas lights (and leaving them up all-year round haha!) and learning how to bake a turkey, stuffed with Thai ingredients from lemongrass to lotus seeds to infuse a flavor of home.
It also got boring as everyone was enjoying themselves while I was starving and angry. Who was my hanger serving, really? (Get it? Hungry + Anger = Hangry… i tried.)
How do we celebrate this holiday without ignoring the atrocities of how this day came to be? And how do we do it in a way that isn't spiritually bypassing the issues that need to be addressed?
It's been nearly ten years since that little angry activist Jumakae fasted on Thanksgiving. I'm grateful she experienced it, and has come up with healthier responses that meets both her ethics and her appetite! For those of you who may not have loved ones to celebrate with, consider an opportunity to gather with a few close friends to practice this holiday with mindfulness instead of starving oneself from food and human connections (like how I once did!). If you’ll be gathering around the dinner table, here's three ways to add intention to this holiday:
1. Say a Prayer to the Original Caretakers of this Land
Which land do you currently occupy? Being in the Los Angeles area, I thank the Chumash/Gabrielino, Tongva, and Tataviam tribes for this land they have cared for hundreds of years before my arrival. Did you know that many tribes are considered extinct when they're still fighting for their rights and recognition today? Reflect on how you are supporting current movements for first nation people, from replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day to donating to efforts like the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center. You can also check out this cool app that tells you what land you’re on by putting in your zipcode!
2. Set An Intention Before You Eat
I was raised in a Buddhist household with a mix of Christianity. (For another story!) Before we eat, I've included Thich Nhat Hanh's "New Contemplations Before Eating," which gives us a moment to reflect on how the food arrived to our plate, express our gratitude, and be mindful of how much we consume. (This also gives us an opportunity to remember why we eat in the first place, and it's not just to get full!) What is your intention behind eating? For me, it's to nourish my body and mind so I can continue pursuing this work of storytelling as liberation. For those new to prayer and/or setting intentions, it can feel cheesy at first - but taking a moment to pause, reflect, and express gratitude before you eat regardless of your spiritual practice can actually help to digest food better and increase heart health!
3. Explore the Roots of Your Food
Other Thai families who were looking for community gathered at my parents' home to share memories and a meal. (Colonization wasn’t the topic of discussion, and to them it sounded like a medical procedure they’d rather avoid.) They always celebrated my mother's turkey stuffing, which I didn't know was her own original recipe with herbs from our backyard reminiscent of Thailand fused with "American" ingredients: mashed potatoes, pumpkin, corn, and beans, which are all indigenous/Native foods. This can give us an opportunity to deeply understand the land we're on, and the many lands that people have traveled to get here. If you didn’t grow up with a cultural food, create memories by trying out new recipes and bonding in the kitchen over your favorite meals growing up! You'll be surprised by the stories that arise. (Hey, some of us enjoyed three bowls of cereal a day either by choice or necessity, and that’s totally okay to talk about!) Food is what connects us all. This last point was inspired by a recent article I read, entitled "The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday."
So how will you be celebrating this weekend? Also, if you choose to not do anything that's completely fine too! Sometimes, I find it advantageous to use the holidays as a time for self-care without feeling left out of what everyone else is doing. <3 NO FOMO (fear of missing out)! This is how my December looks.
These holidays should be a moment for us to celebrate ourselves and each other for how far we've come, while filling our cup in preparation for what's to come next. If none of these holidays resonate with you, create your own rituals and do what feels right for your well-being. :)
I hope these words inspired you! If you would like to add anything to the list, feel free to reply or leave a comment since I'm always looking for new ways to celebrate.
If you're in the Los Angeles area my current residency is at the Mark Taper Forum where I facilitate audience engagement conversations for Luis Valdez's newest production, Valley of the Heart. (Luis Valdez is regarded as the father of Chicano Theater in the United States, and is known for classic movies such as Zoot Suit, La Bomba, and more. Can you imagine his first start in theater was on the back of a flatbed truck during the farmworkers strike alongside Cesar Chavez?) If you're like me, you weren't taught about the Japanese American Internment camps in high school - and seeing people of color on television or on stage wasn't very common. These conversations that take place after every evening show is an opportunity for us to heal alongside our elders who were directly affected by this injustice, and to reflect on how it connects to what's happening today. It will also make you appreciate where our food comes from.
*I would suggest not wearing eye makeup if you're going to watch this! 😭
Use my discount code "COMMUNITY" for $35 weekend tickets!
Playing until December 9
“Valley of the Heart takes place in CA’s Santa Clara Valley, where the Yamaguchis and Montaños, proud immigrants with strong ties to their Japanese and Mexican roots, struggle to provide a future for their American-born children amidst growing racism and fear. Just as their oldest children secretly fall in love, the attack on Pearl Harbor throws the families into turmoil and the country into war. When the Yamaguchis are incarcerated in one of the U.S. concentration camps, the families’ allegiances are tested and the two young lovers must find a way to stay loyal to each other- and their country.”