Events and Holidays Featured

An Immigrant’s Reflections on Thanksgiving

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Khalida Jamilah – USA

Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday of November, is one of the most eagerly awaited holiday in the United States. People get days off from school and work, spend time with family or friends and eat typical meals consisting of roasted turkey and gravy, mashed potato, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I moved from Indonesia to California in 2008 and I don’t remember the exact year my family celebrated Thanksgiving. But, I do remember that one year, the first time my mom and I decided to cook a big turkey with Japanese and Indonesian marinade. 

I felt super happy because I associated a giant golden brown roasted turkey on Thanksgiving Day with me being a true American. It had already been a few years since we moved to California so I wanted to incorporate an aspect of American culture into my life and implement it in my family. In Indonesia, like in all the world’s countries, we also have our festivals and national occasions where people get days off from work and school and spend time with family and eat special meals. Now as time goes by and as I learn more about what it means to be an American, I’ve realised that the most important thing is for each of us to embrace our own unique identity, respect each other and most importantly keep an open mind so that we can learn from each other’s cultures and respect people who have different opinions from ourselves. 

The word ‘thanksgiving’ consists of two parts: thanks and giving. I know that feeling gratitude when facing hardship is extremely difficult. We can still acknowledge the hardship we face but at the same time we should also remember all the good things we have right now such as health, security and enough food to eat. All those little things in life might seem trivial but if we remember them after we complain about our problems, that acknowledgment of all the positive things will definitely help. 

Another aspect is giving. One way to express our gratitude is to give anything at all that might make someone happy. For Thanksgiving 2021 I am grateful for all the good things I have in life despite the fact that some of my wishes have not yet been fulfilled. Sure I don’t need one special day like Thanksgiving to remind me to be thankful because Islam teaches me to be grateful and thankful every second, minute, hour, day, week, month and year. 

Islam teaches me to be thankful at least five times a day during the daily prayers (salat) when I can thank Allah for all the blessings He gives to me and my family. Even when washing dishes I can say Alhamdulillah in my heart while reflecting on all the good things I have. So I can say I celebrate thanksgiving every moment just without the festive meals. 

This year my mom and I have decided to cook traditional Indonesian roasted chicken with red chilli marinade and serve it with coconut milk infused rice, Indonesian vegetable stir fry, and to include American cuisine on our family table, I’ll bake cheesecake with cranberry sauce. 

Now I realize being a true American is not judged by the food you eat, the TV show you watch, the music you listen to, but by what you can give to America. As I browsed new recipes for Thanksgiving, I came across this quote by Melody Beattie: ‘Gratitude can make a meal into a feast.’ Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

About the author: Born and raised in Indonesia, Khalida Jamilah is a freelance writer and an aspiring journalist. Now she proudly claims California as her home. She graduated with a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California Berkeley. Her interests are Islam’s response to contemporary issues and world cultures.