Friday, November 23, 2007


A great comment on Thanksgiving by Dr. Felipe Ortego, my esteemed friend. We can always benefit from History.
-Dra. Angela Valenzuela


From /The National Hispanic Reporter/, November 1991.

**By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

In most enterprises, moments of thanks­giving take place for safe
arrival or deliverance. The story about the first Thanksgiving in
America cre­dits the Pil­grims at the Massachusetts Bay Colony
celebrating their safe arrival at the Atlantic frontier of the “new world.”

That band of Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth, England on September 15,
1620, on the Mayflower with 103 religious dissenters on board. Their
original destination was the Vir­ginia colony, but they put to at Cape
Cod on November 19, and set foot on Ply­mouth rock (Massa­chusetts) on
December 21 (Decem­ber 11, Old Style).

It is recorded that these Pilgrims came to America to es­cape religious
persecution in England; they actually came to practice Puritanism, a
religi­ous fundamentalism of intoler­ance that eliminated parliamen­tary
government in England between 1649 and 1660.

The Pilgrims who came to America were not just simple religious
conser­vatives persecuted by the King and the Church of England for
their unor­thodox beliefs. They were political revolutionaries who meant
to overthrow the English monarchy and did in 1649. Noble as their
victory was, Puri­tan tyranny simply replaced royal tyranny.

But in 1620, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony were out­casts who could
not fit into English mainstream society. They regarded their Wampanoag
Indian benefactors as their enemy, as noted in the Plymouth Thanksgiving
sermon of 1623 by Mather the Elder. In that sermon, Mather the Elder
gave special thanks to God for the devastat­ing plague of smallpox that
destroy­ed the majority of the Wampanoag Indians. He praised God for
eliminating “chief­ly young men and children, the very seeds of
in­crease, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth.”

To the Pilgrims, the Indians were heathens and, therefore, instruments
of the Devil. Squanto, the only educated Wam-pano­ag among the In­dians,
was regarded as merely an in­strument of God set in the wilderness to
provide for the sur­vival of the Cho­sen Elect--the Pil­grims.

Records are not very clear about when the Pilgrims celebrated that first
Thanksgiving. And stories about that first Pilgrim thanksgiving have
been em­broidered with touches of Indian charity helping those Pilgrims
through their first rough winter in Ame­rica.

But at that first Thanksgiving at Ply­mouth Plantation in 1621, the
pilgrim friendship was feigned and the peace of­fered tenuous. A
generation later when the population shift favored the whites, Puritans
slaughtered Indians genocidal­ly in the conflict that has come to be
known as King Philip’s War, after which King Philip of the Indians was
beheaded and the Wam­panoags sold into slavery. So much for the myth of
har­mony about that first Thanksgiving.

The myth of that first Thanksgiving actually came into being during the
19^th century when the national goal of as­similation emerged as a way
to homogenize a diversity of people into a unified nation through a
common national (al­beit mythical) history.

But the Pilgrim Thanksgiving of 1621 was not the first thanksgiving in
America. In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon proclaimed thanksgiving when his
crew put ashore on what is now St. Augustine, Florida. In his account of
the */Conquest of Mexico/*, Bernal Diaz notes a moment of thanksgiv­ing
in 1519 joined by Cortez and his men for safe passage to what is now
Vera­cruz, Mexico.

A story of thanksgiving is told about Panfilo de Narvaez and his
expedition to Florida in 1526. An­other story of thanksgiv­ing is told
about Coronado and his men, taking place on the banks of the Rio Grande
near present-day San Elizario, Texas, in 1540. And on September 8, 1565,
Don Pedro Menendez declared a day of thanks before begining construction
of St. Augustine, Florida. Stories of thanksgiv­ing abound.

Mention is made here and there in American history about a national day
of thanksgiving. On October 3, 1863, for ex­ample, Abraham Lincoln
proclaimed a day of thanksgiv­ing. And in 1905, Theodore Roosevelt
issued a proclamation dec­laring November 2 as a day of thanks­giving,
not Thanks-giving Day.

Thanksgiving Day did not actually become a national holi­day until
December 26, 1941, with House Joint Resolution 41 (77^th Congress, 1^st
Session) declaring the 4^th Thurs­day in November as Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving is a day all Americans commemorate. But Thanksgiving is not
a proprietary holiday. The Pil­grims didn’t invent it. Nor did the
Spaniards. But when we think of the first thanksgiv­ing we need to look
at the forgotten (some would say “neglected”) pages of American history.
For the history of the United States during the period when its lands
were Spanish is as much a part of American history as is the history of
the period when its lands were English.

More importantly, perhaps, is to remember that as a na­tional holiday,
Thanksgiving Day is of recent origin, belong­ing to the children of the
20^th century. It’s time to recomme-mor­ate Thanksgiving Day as a day of
hope for the American children of the 21^st century.

Dr. Ortego is Scholar in Residence and Professor of Communi­cations and
Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. He is also
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of /The National Hispanic Reporter/.

Copyright © 1991 by the author. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

hugo laurel said...