Acknowledging Our Shared History

2014-11-27-RailroadTurkeyorigin.jpgAs long as I have been able to vote elected officials at the local, state and federal level have struggled with what to do about immigration. When I used to talk with my Irish grandparents they told of the signs that were posted in the windows of stores or the line in Jobs section of the paper or in the labor union halls. 'No [...] need apply.'

Fill in the blank with the most recent ethnic immigrant group that is arriving with the strength, smarts, determination, and desire to build a better future for themselves and for our country. Or recognize that even without those signs that African-Americans, going on two centuries now, continue to get robbed of opportunities.

This Thanksgiving week I hope all of us have a conversation at our dinner table about the origins of this deeply American tradition. Those signs may no longer be plastered everywhere but the feelings haven't evaporated. Almost all of us were once immigrants. As the pilgrims came ashore no doubt the Native Americans were confused and scared for many of the same reasons that people are today. Both groups fought and killed because of that fear. Sadly it is too often our first reaction.

But on thanksgiving we can remember a different path once taken. The one that resulted in the first Thanksgiving.

Squanto, a member of the Wampanoag tribe having been kidnapped more than once by Europeans, he returned to his Cape Cod village in 1619 to see everyone wiped out by either tuberculosis or small pox. Think about the heartbreak we would feel finally getting home and everyone we loved was just gone. Squanto moved to Plymouth where he saw people all around him sick and dying. Only this time it was the Pilgrims.

Instead of anger, he chose compassion. He taught the Pilgrims to farm the land, extract sap from the trees, catch fish, and avoid poisonous plants. Choosing to forge a peaceful future with these new immigrants -- our forefathers and mothers -- Squanto helped negotiate a treaty.

When the bounty was harvested, the First Americans and the new immigrants celebrated together. It was our first Thanksgiving.

Our Simple Truth: We were all once immigrants and we can choose to be angry and scared or grateful.

Join me this Thanksgiving in opening up your heart to a generous America that understands we are stronger with the intellect, ambition, and dedication that immigration reform will reap.

Read more from Maura O'Neill and check out her blog: Our Simple Truths and Facebook page.