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International Thanksgiving This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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“I do not wish my house to be walled on all sides and my windows stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Enchiladas, sushi, and mango chutney aren't exactly typical Thanksgiving fare, but then again, my family has always been eccentric. Since I was young, my parents' top priority has been to immerse me in different cultures. Since both are educators committed to the multicultural experience, they chose to familiarize me early on with Japanese tea ceremonies in Little Tokyo and Latino culture on Olvera Street, rather than shopping malls and theme parks.

Consequently, I was not surprised that an international student would be staying with us. In spite of any awkwardness and communication challenges, my parents felt that it would be an enriching and enjoyable experience. Once the first student left, we opened our doors to others.

From then on, our house became an international youth hostel of sorts, and my family's orderly life changed drastically. Japanese silk tapestries, Ethiopian tribal masks, and colorful Mexican embroidered rugs began popping up around the house. From time to time, dinner was unrecognizable and worse yet, seemingly inedible.

One day, I came home from school and was overwhelmed by the smell of incense. I found my parents and Raj, our visitor from India, in the living room with their eyes closed sitting in a semicircle around several lit candles. I thought my parents had lost their minds until they explained that Raj was introducing them to Hindu prayer. It didn't take long to realize that the presence of international students in our house was having a profound effect on us.

As I got older, I gradually developed a new appreciation of these experiences. I began to realize how insulated many Americans are, especially my generation. It wasn't obvious at first, since my friends thought they were culturally aware simply because they lived near a variety of ethnic groups in Los Angeles. I came to realize, however, that their acceptance of other cultures was superficial and uninvolved. They preferred to respectfully disengage from other cultures rather than venture beyond their comfort zone. In contrast, sharing a home with people from around the world taught me the necessity of ­cultural interchange and the richness that comes from exposure to different ways of thinking.

It became obvious to me how culturally insular young Americans are today. The United States is not a world unto itself; we are living in an era of globalization, and we must take action to promote cultural awareness. Accordingly, I have participated in international immersion programs in Israel and Argentina that have further deepened my fascination with other cultures.

I wanted to reinforce my commitment to my own heritage while promoting mutual understanding between cultures. To decrease the isolation of my Jewish community, I became a co-chair of my temple's teen social action committee. I organize yearly multicultural arts fairs to bring children and their families from different communities together to interact and have fun. Last year we invited members of a local Korean church to our temple for a Hanukah celebration. In exchange, they asked us to participate in Ch'usok, the Korean thanksgiving festival. Wherever my life leads me, I am certain that advocating for global and cultural exchange will remain an essential part of who I am.

My family has continued our tradition of cultural exchange as well. A few years ago, we “internationalized” Thanksgiving by inviting former exchange students to a potluck dinner. Imagine our surprise when the smiling students arrived bearing a variety of dishes. All empty. My mother quickly realized her mistake in not explaining what a potluck was. After a short pause, she winked at us and ushered the students into the kitchen, saying, “Now we start cooking!” Each prepared a recipe from his or her culture using whatever ingredients we had. A few hours later, dinner was ready and “International Thanksgiving” was born.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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copperpheonix said...
Nov. 12, 2013 at 6:35 pm
this is quite interesting, even if you are included the multicultural people, doesn't mean you couldn't learn about other cultures. I am South Asain, and I love to learn about all cultures, because we are all people and we should all experiance things beyond our comfert zone; it helps us realize the deversity of life in general.
 
sfarias2010 said...
Nov. 30, 2009 at 12:45 pm
this is really good
i love multicultural people
 
st. naj said...
Nov. 27, 2009 at 12:51 pm
people like you give me hope.
 
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