Distant relatives versus nearby friends on Thanksgiving
My parents say that there is a Chinese saying (there is always a Chinese saying) about how distant relatives are not as good as nearby friends. To illustrate, they recall the time our car broke down on the winding and treacherous Pacheco Pass after midnight and how our neighbor, Mr. Shigematsu, came to rescue us and did not get home until after 2 a,m. Our relatives in distant Los Angeles or San Francisco could not have done anything to help because they were too far away.
Thanksgiving is a time of feasting and family, and people are traveling, cooking and cleaning like mad, trying to get to their families for four brief days. Because many of my children’s friends are from international families and do not have extended family close by, I like to gather up all our friends and celebrate “Thanksgiving Eve” the night before with a big potluck of what turns out to be the most amazing spread of foods from around the world — teriyaki turkey, sticky rice stuffing, butternut squash Thai curry, chicken biriyani, babaganoush, tabbouli, lasagna, shrimp and broccoli, mangoes and black sticky rice, Thai pumpkin custard and more.
So although everyone typically writes and thinks about family at this time of year, I have been thinking about friends and connection — meeting someone with whom you click, who understands your humor, who appreciates your meager talents and suspect beauty, who sees you and accepts you, who challenges you to become more yourself. It is always such a relief to finally find someone who gets you, such a loss when they slip away.
A second-grade teacher told me last year that more than half of her students said that they did not or could not celebrate Thanksgiving because they were “not American.” The child of immigrants herself, she explained that everyone is allowed to celebrate Thanksgiving, and when she pushed them a little, she discovered that every single one had been invited to another friend’s home for Thanksgiving dinner. Many of the second graders did not know much more about Thanksgiving other than that a turkey was involved somehow, but they were all looking forward to experiencing “a real American Thanksgiving.”
I ran into my friend the MacArthur Fellow the other day (OK, I ran into him at the door of his office on campus after I knocked). In his hand was some dusty old tome with green university library binding, and he asked if I knew where to get high quality scans. Of course. Go talk to my Greek brother Evan at Kolossos. He’s my brother, he’ll take good care of you. I’ll walk you there now. Afterwards, my friend remarked that I knew everyone in town and could get anything done. We had a cup of tea, and, although we only see each other about twice a year, we leapt straight to the heart of the conversation without having to talk about the weather first — happiness, heartbreak, kindness, craziness, family, friends, ninjas. He challenged me as he always does, which is both annoying and deeply gratifying. I managed to hold back the tears, but I am still actively mulling over our conversation.
I have recently become part of an Asian Pacific American writers group that connects Asian Pacific American and Asian Pacific diasporic writers from around the world, and although the connections are virtual, I find myself simply happy to be in their company. My writing is lighter. I tell jokes again. The discussions make sense. I could spend all my time with them and jokingly refer to them as my new BFFs (best friends forever).
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for AnnArbor.com and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at franceskaihwawang.com, her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
Mon, Nov 22, 2010 : 6:03 p.m.
Funny! thanks all!
Elaine F. Owsley
Mon, Nov 22, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.
Years ago we were host family for several British college students in Ypsilanti. Of course they joined us for Thanksgiving and we had the kids tell them about the first Thanksgiving. When they asked for more information, we jokingly told them that we were celebrating the fact that our ancestors escaped from theirs.
Sun, Nov 21, 2010 : 9:52 p.m.
Beautiful and funny musings on that motley bunch of friends that God happens to put nearby...that become our family, too!
Sun, Nov 21, 2010 : 3:06 p.m.
Another beautiful essay, Frances! You've truly captured the spirit of giving thanks. (Plus, it was funny too.) :)