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Alone on Thanksgiving

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Anathea Woirhaye
December 8, 2022

I left my AIM earrings in the rush to get to dinner on time, which normally would mean nothing. However, it was Thanksgiving dinner, and so the choice to wear my earrings was a very significant one. I forgot to do it, sat down for dinner, and tried to see if Smoke Signals was on any UK streaming service for free. It wasn’t. I explained awkwardly that Thanksgiving is an emotionally fraught holiday for me, and made a joke about me being a bad native because I didn’t like squash. 

I bought my earrings, little beaded studs, at a powwow about a week before I left for England. As I walked around with my mom, meeting family and friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen since the pandemic, I became very uneasy. I’ve never lived far away from home before. My college is an hour away by car, so I’m still in California. The UK is completely different, in the environment to the history to the land itself. Southern California is a part of me, in a visceral way. Growing up, I knew that that was the place where my ancestors had lived for thousands of years. I was struck with a wave of homesickness that I would leave my native community behind. So, I bought the earrings, so I’d have something to wear to remind me of home.

It’s hard to talk about being native in the UK. I don’t want to make people feel bad, and I don’t want to talk over people who are more affected by the colonialism in the UK than I am, but the celebration of colonialism here gnaws at you. It’s little things, like when you find a jacket with a slur on it or a statue of a colonial official, or overhear your stair mate saying very offensive things, but it is a different kind of bigotry that exists because the people here do not have you and your community in mind. 

This lack of awareness has its downfalls, but also, I was faced with an interesting situation- the English don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday I have complex feelings about, and not having to deal with explaining them to people was very different than anything I had experienced at home. When I tell people in America, I either have to have to hear them brush it off and ignore me or attempt to have a long and uncomfortable conversation as to how their non-native family has made it okay to celebrate. It’s fine for people to celebrate Thanksgiving, really. My family does. It’s just here, I had the choice to decide not to.

I will admit, I almost didn’t. The native activist accounts I follow were posting a great deal, but I had limited conversations in person about it. I didn’t have to give the spiel about the complexities of colonialism and mixed identity and cultural genocide and white vegans. That, I will admit, was very relieving. I don’t like making people uncomfortable, but I also don’t want to let American cultural myths go unchallenged. The absence of that conversation was nice.

However, on the actual day of the formal dinner, I felt strange. I forgot my earrings at dinner and felt weird that I didn’t have jewellery or sage to burn. I realised that often, though it is a time in which I have to have all of these uncomfortable conversations with non-native people, it is also a time when I reflect on my own native identity and connection to my community. When I was able to FaceTime my family, native and non-native, I really felt a sense of belonging I lacked. I don’t speak for anyone else, but for me, I found that Thanksgiving was more important to me than I realised.

Choosing to go to Oxford was hard for me. I had to think about how my appreciation for the architecture, the teaching style, and the university history is greatly founded on racism and colonialism.  At the powwow, telling people I was going to Oxford was met with more unease than other groups of people I’ve told. I made the choice to go with no small amount of trepidation.

However, being abroad here helped me reflect on the way I interface with the world as a native person. It’s not an experience I had before. For all of the complex feelings I have about Thanksgiving as a holiday, I am glad that I had this experience.

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Anathea Woirhaye

I’m a third year student at the University of Redlands, pursuing an alternative education through the Johnston Centre of Integrative Studies, and I am studying abroad at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. This essentially means that I design my own major, and instead of grades, I get written evaluations. I study History, Film, Literature, and Art. I’m deeply involved in the community, which means I love going to meetings and deciding policy! I love to sew costumes and clothes and to watch old movies with friends.

Destination:
Term:
2022 Fall
Home University:
University of Redlands
Hometown:
Whittier, CA
Major:
History
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