Newcomers get Thanksgiving

At Newcomers High, a New York City school for recently arrived immigrants, students understand Thanksgiving, writes Melanie Kirkpatrick in the Wall Street Journal.

History teacher Tim Becker includes a unit on the holiday even though Thanksgiving isn’t part of the state-mandated curriculum for his 11th-grade class. It “reminds my students that they are not the first new Americans to have struggled to achieve their dreams,” he says, “and that others before them have overcome the challenges of living in a new country.”

Like the Pilgrims, most of the students at Newcomers say their families came here seeking better lives. The Pilgrims “were looking for something they didn’t have in England,” says a girl from Colombia. “When you come here it is the same. You have to face difficulties.”

Students say their parents came here to make a better life for themselves and their children.  A Bangladeshi boy says his family came for the purpose of “pursuiting the happiness.”

In (ESL teacher Sophie) Zannis’s class, we fall into a discussion of the virtues the Pilgrims exemplify and the personal characteristics they needed in order to survive the terrible winter of 1620-21, when half their number died. The words fly across the classroom: “Courage.” “Hard-working.” “Brave.” “Frustrated.” “Strong.” “Don’t give up.”

The students also believe it’s important to eat turkey, though their parents may add pierogies or rice or tortillas. It’s tradition, they say.

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  1. No mention of the Pilgrims’ experiments with communal living?

  2. Like the Pilgrims, most of the students at Newcomers say their families came here seeking better lives.

    This is a facile and disingenuous statement, but one that most Americans have bought into. When they think of today’s innumerable immigrants, most Americans nod their heads dumbly and say to themselves, “For a better life. How noble.”

    For one thing, comparing today’s immigrants with the Pilgrims is like comparing apples to artichokes. The Pilgrims were not immigrants. They were settlers. Although we’re stuck with the idiotic catchphrase “country of immigrants” for all eternity, the United States was never a “country of immigrants.” And even though it looks as if America soon will be a country of immigrants, settlers are not immigrants.

    Furthermore, the Pilgrims did not come here for “a better life,” whatever that means. They came to establish a society built on Biblical principles and to advance the gospel in remote parts of the world. That’s according to William Bradford, who might know a thing or two on the subject.

    When I taught ESL a few moons ago, Chinese students would tell me that the three best things in life were “Chinese food, German car and American house,” and that they had come here to get their American house. That’s one variation on the “better life” theme that we all find so ennobling, but it’s a far cry from anything Pilgrimesque.

  3. …“Chinese food, German car and American house,”…

    With the U.S. and California tax codes subsidizing approximately 35% of mortgage costs, we’d better have the best houses.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    I suppose the Pilgrims could consider the society they wanted to build “Better” than the one they left. They were hard people, in the sense that they would risk and suffer unimaginable hardship to get what they wanted. I don’t see that as not wanting a “better” life, unless the definition is restricted to the material. If that is the case, then the result would be that they came here seeking a worse life, but at least they’d feel better about it.

  5. R. Selecman says:

    When I think of “immigrants” I do not think,”How noble.” I think, great, one more person for hard-working Americans to support as the immigrants suck the system dry. Most of them do not come to this country to be assimilated into our culture. They continue to speak their original language while failing to learn ours. They do not pay taxes, do not have car insurance and take jobs away from Americans. They get free lunches for their kids at schoo, free medical treatment,and many other services that poor Americans do not. They money they do make “under-the-table” they send back to their “home” country” to get their other relatives to come here. They establish “mini-communities” within our communities that soon become another slum version of the life they say they so desperately wanted to leave behind. They feign ignorance of the law and get away with commiting crimes that the average American would be thrown in jail for. When they have manipulated the system to it’s straining point and they finally do go to jail, they complain about the food and the conditions in the jail. American is no longer the land of opportunity, it’s the land of free handout. Wonder what they’re going to do when the present generation of hard-working Americans are all dead and all that’s left is people like themselves?