For a while, I was my American friends’ favorite guest to bring to their family Thanksgiving dinner.
Look, Mom and Dad! I brought an international student home so we can show her a real American Thanksgiving tradition!
Of course, I would be warned beforehand about that uncle who might drink a wee bit too much and, well, get a little… political. Sometimes, the warning was about the grandmother who might say, “Why don’t you bring a nice European girl next year?”
The warnings were often vague, along the lines of, “You might want to stay clear of Uncle Bill after his second whiskey sour” or “Don’t sit over there – you don’t want to sit too close to Grandma Dot… she can get old-fashioned about things.”
Sure. It’s a nice sentiment to get the family together, even the drunk and/or racist relatives, and spend time thinking about all for which you feel thankful.
That said, I have a few unsolicited suggestions, depending on how you might feel about Thanksgiving:
1) We as a Korean family do not do turkey and the whole works. We are not fans of… turkey.
Hold your horses.
If you are done gasping in that judge-y OMG, how un-American! tone, I have to ask a favor: Don’t assume that turkey, mashed potatoes (with or without skins), cranberry sauce (out of a can with all the ridges on the side or made from scratch with all-organic ingredients and intentionally too tart with gourmet lumps), and cubes of bread and herbs stuffed back up the turkey’s anus are the only meal with which to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Our Thanksgiving tradition is to go out to a Korean barbecue place and eat copious amounts of meat grilled right at our table. And, you think my description of the turkey dinner was harsh, you should hear the things I am told when I inform people that we don’t do turkey. You’d think that people were ready to deport our entire family for daring to not eat turkey.
So be open-minded about other traditions and meals with which this holiday is celebrated. After all, isn’t immigration and all the new traditions it brings to America at the heart of this day of giving thanks?
2) Speaking of immigration… I hope you spend a few moments (or more, by all means!) as you celebrate the mythical dinner that the white pilgrims and brown Native Americans shared as the new immigrants were welcomed to this land of plenty, to think about the current plight of brown pilgrims who desperately want to become immigrants and their children who have been taken away from them.
3) Finally, let’s get back to problematic Uncle Bill who gets racist or homophobic or misogynistic or maybe all three? Because why not. I’ve heard people say: What are we supposed to do? They are family. Or It is so difficult but I bite my tongue and suffer through the dinner. Or We are skipping Thanksgiving dinner this year. We will show them with our boycott that we do not tolerate hate.
Trust me. I hear you. And I’ve heard your Uncle Bills. It’s really really tough to hear. Especially when they are not your family, and the hate is directed at people who look like you. And you are the only person who looks like you sitting there at the table in the house where you are a guest while you quietly and politely nibble on the turkey that is suddenly too goddamn dry to swallow while you hear all about how these damn dark skinned or chinky-eyed or foreign non-English speaking or non-white people are ruining poor Uncle Bill’s America. And no one– not a single family member– tells Uncle Bill to shut it. Or even has the guts, courage, and/or decency to apologize to you later.
It’s not pleasant.
Maybe, just maybe, this could be the year that could go down in family history as the year when someone finally tells Uncle Bill to shut it with all hateful rhetoric and have a brave conversation with him.
Perhaps Uncle Bill has had way too much to drink for a proper conversation, but at least someone told him off. Perhaps Uncle Bill isn’t all that drunk after all, and maybe you can show him that there are fallacies in his logic; and he will see that his hate was brewed with misdirected anger. Maybe Uncle Bill just needs someone to show him that his biases were baseless and that he simply watched a few too many Fox News segments.
Or maybe Uncle Bill is beyond saving.
But, he is your Uncle Bill. So many marginalized folks have to have these uncomfortable conversations with strangers because too many Uncle Bills in the world have nieces and nephews who don’t want to have those uncomfortable conversations during a turkey dinner.
So I implore those of you who were thinking about boycotting your Thanksgiving dinner to reconsider. Have that uncomfortable discussion with your Uncle Bill. If you have an Uncle Bill, your family is already dysfunctional anyway.
If you are uninvited to future Thanksgiving dinners because of my suggestion, come and do Korean barbecue with us next year.