As an Arab-American, Thanksgiving is an especially wonderful holiday. I have even more things to be thankful for than the average non-Arab-American.
America is the place where my parents came and found a new life after becoming Palestinian refugees. My father was exiled from Palestine at the age of one month, and my mother was exiled from Palestine as a young teenager. My father, after being raised and getting a college education in Jordan, came to California to complete a PhD at the University of California-Berkeley, where he met my mother, who had been in California since the age of 12. They did not meet in the traditional Arab way. They met in California in the 1970s. I’m not saying that there was something special in the hookahs back then, but who knows. Luckily, my parents’ marriage is one of love. It is still beautifully, and sometimes annoyingly, obvious. For that, I am thankful.
After getting married, my parents left America to move to Jordan, where my dad was to become a university professor in chemistry. For the first two years of his tenure there, he was highly popular with his students. During that time, I came along. When I was born, my mother was already a US citizen, so I was immediately naturalized as an American. For that, I am extremely thankful.
In 1979, my father was exiled from Jordan. He was the victim of one of those superfluous displays of power by Arab dictators that too often characterize the Middle East, and especially the Arab-Israeli conflict. He re-learned the lesson that every Palestinian knows and lives: Being a Palestinian means you can live anywhere you want… except here, wherever “here” happens to be. Palestinians live the ongoing existence of a “guest”, even in their own land. After spending dozens of generations as a people tied to their land, Palestinians now are a people tucked in every corner of the world. Only a Palestinian can say, “I live in America, my brother in Jordan, my sister in Australia, and my other brother in Mongolia.” We rack up more frequent flier miles than anyone else. Airlines love us… most of the time. Nevertheless, my father, because of his education and impressive résumé, found a job just outside of Philadelphia, and that’s where I grew up, with all the pleasures of an American life. For that, I am thankful.
My mother and father went through a lot to get to America, although it was not by choice. My dad was raised in a makeshift neighborhood in Amman, with none of the basic daily amenities we take for granted here everyday. He had to finish in the top of his class in high school, college, and graduate school, just to have the chance to succeed. And he did. I’m kind of thankful for that, because while his hard work is the main reason I had the relatively easy life I did, it was nearly impossible to impress this man. He came from nothing… I remember bringing my tests home when I was a kid.
Me: “Baba, here’s my test, I got a 96!”
My dad: “Where are the other 4?”
What he and other Palestinians have been able to do is amazing. Going to foreign lands with foreign languages, and somehow succeeding. If you look at Palestinians as a whole, they are usually very successful in whatever they do. Whether they run a body shop, or a multi-million dollar corporation, they are the best. Why are we always successful, no matter where we go? Is it genetic? It is because we’re related to Jesus? Then I got it. It’s because we don’t have a Plan B. We have to make it work, and so we do.
Arabs love Thanksgiving. We are already obsessed with food. The only 2 questions Arab mothers have for their sons are “When are you gonna get married?” and “Did you eat?” To have a holiday completely obsessed with preparing and eating food makes an Arab feel very at home in America. And for that, I’m thankful too.
So, on this Thanksgiving, like every Thanksgiving, I feel lucky. But I have to say, I feel a little weird celebrating Thanksgiving as a Palestinian. It’s not only because there’s a lamb next to the turkey and hummus next to the cranberry sauce. This is a holiday where we all take a 4-day weekend, and commemorate when light-skinned foreign people pretended to make peace with dark-skinned native people, then kicked them out and stole not only their land, but their recipes too.