Thanksgiving in the U.S., once again, made its swift entrance, and in a blink of an eye it made an equally swift exit. It’s the usual plan of action for the American holiday –with less “fun”-fare than its Halloween cousin, and a lot less commercialism than the behemoth Christmas holiday. Poor Thanksgiving… the holiday that is highlighted with a spattering of pilgrim and turkey decorations, hues of browns, oranges, yellows and mossy greens. And what trumps even that glimmer of symbolism for the holiday is the gluttony that has become associated with it. Turkey and ham sales skyrocket around this time of the year, as do those for wine. Throw in equally copious amounts of stuffing, potatoes (of all kinds), cranberry sauce and pies, and you have what has become the outward expression of the holiday that, in most cases, is supposed to mean so much. Bottom line is, the true meaning of this season, as you see, is being thankful – for everything and anything.
Religious themes aside, the act of being “thankful” transcends all. And this time of year, I personally find myself beginning that retrospective processing of my conscience. And as I sift through all the points of the past year in my head, I’m reminded that no matter how many low points I may have experienced, I have had an even greater amount of highs –many of them little things that, in the end, reminds me to take a step back and just relish in the fact that no matter what – life has been good… life IS good.
So what am I thankful for? There are too many things to list, in all honesty. And year after year, the experiences continue to pile up. I sometimes can’t even go through the mountainous amounts of memories that swim inside my head. At Thanksgiving dinner the other night, one of my cousins asked me, “Kuya Wen, what is the most beautiful place you’ve visited so far?” At first instance, I figured “This is an easy one” to answer. But as my mind started to sift through all of the places I’ve gone, each and every memory – from the landscapes to the smells to the interactions with the locals – offered something bigger and better. I couldn’t decide. While I often times blame by Gemini-esque duality for not being able to choose either way, this time I felt overwhelmed not by the memories themselves, but by the fact that I actually have the luxury to even think through these experiences that I can call my own. Having an adventurous spirit is definitely something I am thankful of having, but I owe that to my parents.
My parents, while not extensive travelers, have had their share of being in planes, trains and automobiles. I know I’ve mentioned this in various (social media) posts before, but my parents immigrated to the U.S. well over 40 years ago. My Dad joined the U.S. Navy from his native Philippines back when the U.S. military had an extremely strong strategic presence in the country. Coming from just a few towns north of Subic, the opportunity to join the U.S. military was essentially his ticket to a better way of life. For my Mom, the jump was a bit harder to swallow. She had barely started a budding teaching career in her hometown after going to college in the capital city of Manila. She followed her older sister in the field of education, and essentially figured that she would pave a path for herself as an educator. But –long story short– she fell in love, and married the would-be U.S. navy man who grew up just a few blocks up the street from where she lived.
Leaving all they knew of the life that they had back in The Philippines may have been super traumatic. After all, leaving all things familiar, and especially leaving their families behind, had to be one of the biggest sacrifices that they had to make. Even more so challenging had to be coping with an unfamiliar way of life with no immediate family to turn to for help. The same would apply to all of the extended families we would come to know through the years – my extended “aunts” and “uncles” who were part of the diaspora of Filipinos who left the country as military men, nurses, and young professionals seeking a way of life that they may not have been able to have forged back in The Philippines. Together, this group of immigrants banded together and shared life. They shared dinners together, supported each other through pregnancies and other life milestones, they babysat for one another during impossible work situations, and sacrificed things for one another just to ensure that things would work out or get done. It was this sacrifice that I came to be born out of; I am the product of my parents’ hopes and dreams for a better way of life.
It often scares me to think that without that sacrifice, I may never have come to be. Even more so, my Mom had a challenging time becoming pregnant when she settled in the U.S. But after countless attempts & prayer vigils by my parents (and our family in The Philippines), I eventually came into this world that my parents had built for themselves… for us. Four children later (one of which had left us way too soon), we were a full-fledged Filipino American family – living the “American dream” of working hard to earn a good living, studying till your brain was fried, eating homemade apple pie and Big Macs, and sitting around the table at Thanksgiving.
And today, I sit in this coffee shop in Capitol Hill thinking back and laughing quietly at all of the memories that are swarming around my head: me and my sister running away from our little brother and locking ourselves in a bedroom playing with our toys as he cried outside the door… the first time I spoke back to my parents, and got the “Asian parents’ wrath” as a result… my Mom picking me up from school when I was sick, and nursing me to health with Lipton’s chicken noodle soup and baby aspirin… the countless hours of Philippine dance classes my siblings and I went through for years… moving into my dorm for the first time… having “the talk” with my parents before I moved to Los Angeles about how when their time comes, we (my siblings and I) would be “ok”… the births of my niece and my 3 nephews… my stumbling through cities around the world with my lack-of command of the local languages… -all of these things are the cascading effects of a decision that my parents made years ago.
So what am I thankful for? I’m thankful for my parents, and the life that they forged for themselves and their little family. It is their sacrifice that has fueled my ambition, their hard work that gave me something to strive for, and their commitment that reminds me each and every day that I am loved.
I am the thankful son of immigrants. I am thankful that immigrants built this country that I was born and raised in. I am thankful for being a part of that legacy.