Friday, December 23, 2011

Our First Thanksgiving Day Celebration in the US

It was a cold November day in 1960 when my wife, Macrine and I with our oldest son, Dodie (who was only 2 years old then) experienced our first Thanksgiving celebration in the United States. That year, I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at the Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.

The Chicago Hospitality Center along with the Young Men Christian Assocaition (YMCA) and the Christian Family Movement (CFM) invites all foreign students in the area to spend a thanksgiving weekend in the homes of volunteers in small towns of central Illinois away from the crowded city of Chicago during the Thanksgiving holidays.

Some of my foreign student friends were reluctant and did not accept the invitation. I had an adventurous spirit so with great anticipation, Macrine and I along with Dodie went with twelve other foreign students and their families to Central Illinois.

Our host for that weekend was Mrs. Johnston, a widow from Danville, Illinois. She lives alone in her beautiful bungalow house right in downtown Danville. We left Chicago in the morning, had thanksgiving dinner (turkey and all its trimmings) in late afternoon. This was followed by a program in the evening at a local community center, where all the local hosts met and socialized with other invited students from Korea, Iran, Mexico, Japan, Chile, South Africa, Egypt and the Philippines. Macrine, Dodie and I represented the Philippines.

The next day we had a grand tour of the area, the farms and then to Springfield, the capital of Illinois. The tour of the area and Springfield was the highlight of our two days break from our hectic schedules as graduate students.

When I returned to Chicago, my American classmates asked me if I like the roasted turkey? I said a resounding no. They all looked at me with eyes telling me, I am a stupid foreigner. I told them that was the first time I had turkey in my life. In the Philippines we do not celebrate Thanksgiving and I had never tasted turkey before. I did not like the pumpkin pie either. What I enjoyed was the oyster stuffing, ice cream for dessert and the cranberries sauce. (Today, I love turkey, but prefer honey-baked ham for our Thanksgiving dinners).

You may ask me why I write this article today. Well, to thank the Lord for all the good things and blessings during the past 51 years, He has given me and my family.

The experience that I had that Thanksgiving Day in 1960 prompted me to write an article of my impressions of the US as a graduate student at that time. I wrote this article after graduation and after we joined the CFM orgnization in Kansas City, Missouri a year later. The article was first published by the Christian Family Movement in their monthly magazine, ACT, in 1961. I titled it Our Impressions of America.

During our first year in Chicago, we never received an invitation to participate in the hospitality program. Our name was probably buried in the list of foreign students or perhaps our foreign student adviser was sleeping in her job. During this first year of adjustment to the American way of life, we formed a very wrong impression of Americans. Asides from our daily contacts with fellow students in the school rooms or dormitories, our only other social contacts were people in the streets, subways, buses, department stores, supermarkets and other public places.

These were all artificial contacts, giving us an impression that Americans are unfriendly, artificial, insincere, apathetic, intolerant and above all ignorant. The latter adjective was quite true, since the ordinary or typical American does not have the vaguest idea where the Philippines, Japan or even Puerto Rico is located in the map.

However, in our second year, we began receiving invitations to spend a weekend in suburban homes as well as dinner invitations in city homes in the Chicago area. At first, we were reluctant to accept the invitations, however with our adventurous spirit, we said yes.

From then on, "we have the whole world in our hands". We are thankful to CFM, the YWCA and the Hospitality Center of Chicago for making our stay in the Chicago area filled with pleasant memories.

On the other hand what impressions could we have brought back to the Philippines, if our stay was limited to one or two years (true for exchange visitors)? How many visitors and exchange scholars brought home with them the wrong impressions and attitude towards the American people in general? I knew there were a few foreign students in the dormitories who were disillusioned about the United States. One of them was a former dorm mate from Chile. He received an invitation, but never did conquer his apprehension of accepting one.

At present as a couple leader of CFM first interfaith group in our diocese, we will do our very best to reciprocate, promote, and encourage hospitality programs to foreign students and scholars in our area. We believe that opening our homes and our hearts on weekends and holidays, is one of the best ways of promoting world peace and understanding.

Let us then make it possible for foreign students and scholars to get the true picture of America and its people. Let us give them the opportunity to share with us our way of life. Let us get busy as a group or perhaps join other groups in order that we can show to the future leaders of the world, how sincere, friendly and aware we are of other human beings in other parts of the world. This is one of the many ways we could be more Christlike, we believe.

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