Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving - Gratitude for Corn, the cause of immigration problems

The Pilgrims were the first uninvited immigrants to the United States. Ironically, they were poor and starving, having exhausted the food supply brought with them.  The natural citizens of this land, the Wampanoag tribe witnessed their plight. What the Wampanoag didn't do was worry that there wasn't enough for everyone. They didn’t adopt immigration policies or exalt the settlers to go back to where they came from.  Instead they observed the old human practices of welcoming and compassion. They taught the Pilgrims to fish the local waters and hunt native game and wild fowl, including the turkey, which they called "earth eagle".

So, in the fall of 1621 the Pilgrims adopted the native custom of holding a Harvest Festival, a three-day feast to celebrate the bounty of spring and summer. The festival took on a double meaning of gratitude as they not only thanked Mother Earth for the bounty, but the indigenous peoples for welcoming and teaching them.

That first Thanksgiving Dinner did not have cranberry jam, sweet potatoes or pumpkin pie. However it did most likely have corn - a grass domesticated by the Aztecs and Mayans of Mezoamerica that they called "maize".  It eventually made its way up to North America and the Wampanoag natives taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate maize along with beans and squash.

Now, in a cruel twist of fate U.S. agricultural policy has destroyed the Mexican corn sector by subsidizing American grown corn to the tune of over $10 billion a year. U.S. corn is then sold back into Mexico reversing 10,000 years of historic flow in the other direction. Poor Mexican farmers cannot compete against US producers. They and their workers are thrown further into poverty and desperately attempt to sneak across the borders to harvest our crops.

So, when these people attempt to cross back over into the lands they originally owned, instead of adopting the compassion that the Pilgrims enjoyed from the Wampanoag, we adopt a scarcity mentality fueled by the politics of fear. Fear that they are going to get what’s ours (which was originally theirs).

This Thanksgiving let’s replace fear with abundance. Let’s begin again to understand that our fate is intertwined with that of every other human on the planet. George Kent, author of Freedom from Want: The Human Right to Adequate Food argues that:

“Human rights do not end at national borders, and neither do the corresponding obligations... A child may have the misfortune of being born into a poor country, but that child is not born in a poor world. The world as a whole has the capacity to sharply reduce global hunger and malnutrition. It is obligated to do that.”

We knew this once. After WWII 85% of Americans, responding to a plea from President Hoover, agreed to the reinstatement of wartime rationing so that we could share our abundance with the rest of the world.

Americans are, by nature, an optimistic and compassionate people. If we could only learn to reject the divisive fear tactics that keep us subservient to wealthy interests we might begin again to believe in abundance, to understand that the world doesn’t have to be divided into winners and losers. Then we might someday be able to partake in a global celebration of Thanksgiving.

yours in gratitude,


Youth Mentoring Connection

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