The Rough Roots Of Thanks-taking

While some call it a holiday of graciousness, one professor took time to explain the massacres and injustices that happened before and after the first feast

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Dr. April Tellez speaks on Nov. 19, at the Thanks-Taking feast shedding light on the real “magic” of Thanksgiving for El Centro. Photo. credit: Joshua Sanchez/SAC.Media.

Behind the turkeys and commercialization lies a history wrapped in blood, doctored up with smiles and sold to the American public as a great holiday of sharing. If someone takes just one of history professor April Tellez’s classes, they will learn the real history behind several events that have been whitewashed and watered down for the public education system. For those who are not able to take one of her classes, she offered one free of charge on Nov. 19 in room 160 of building 6.

Hosted by El Centro, Bridge and MEChA, the class was geared towards decolonizing Thanksgiving. After an introduction by alumni Fabian Pavon, who was one of three people able to get Columbus Day changed to Indigenous Peoples Day at Mt. SAC, and an icebreaker by a bridge program member, Tellez took center stage.

Throughout the lecture and several group discussions, Tellez described the habitual narrative that comes from the very title of “Thanksgiving” since the first feast was not labeled this and was comprised mostly of pumpkins and vegetables grown by the Native Americans. This was mainly because the Europeans were unable to cultivate the land at first and resorted to cannibalism during their starving time; the term “Thanksgiving” was only used in the civil war in 1863 in order to promote unity.

Further, Tellez said that the feast was a symbol, but not in the way most consider it. The feast served as a symbol of the beginning of European duplicity as the colonists would eventually target women and children in what was later referred to as the “Pequot War,” a massacre that resulted in the subjugation or killing of several natives. Tellez also suggested people consider the fact that there is no museum of tolerance for natives in America, despite their elimination being akin to a genocide.

The killing of natives was a natural progression of the colonists’ views, according to Tellez. They had a gendered notice of conquest by calling the natives a problem and the land a “barren womb for insemination.” This was also in direct contrast to the native point of view, which values the earth and females. The killing of women and the plundering of the land was “justified” and rationalized by calling the event a war, but the impacts of native contributions is even more far reaching.

“It’s really not an issue of guilt, it’s all an issue of hiding what’s been stolen,“ human resources basic resources committee member Irene Martinez said. “If you demonstrate that you’re more powerful than another group, then it justifies why you continue to oppress them and continue to be unjust.”

While the American government has not followed any one of the 300 plus agreements it made to natives, the American Constitution had 60% of its influence hail from the constitution of the Iroquois nation after Benjamin Franklin read it.

Tellez also brought up the 1838 Indian Removal Act and how the president that removed them, Andrew Jackson, is celebrated on the $20 bill. Aside from taking land, she took issue with that bill being one of the most commonly used bills today, considering what he had done to the native population. She also addressed the Indian Boarding Schools and the poor treatment that they still encounter today, before asking people to reconsider the holiday and warning that society is doomed when people stop caring about others.

To those concerned about the language used in the presentation, Tellez asked them to not be upset at her for relaying the information, but at the history itself in order to change things.

“Don’t be upset that I’m asking these questions, be upset that I have to ask these questions,” Tellez said. “There’s a lot more than meets the eye. Take a history course.”

Student Monica Rivera said that she liked Tellez’s presentation and that it reinforced things she had learned in professor Allison Frickert’s history class.

Rivera added that calling the Pequot Massacre a “war” stood out to her and said that she is considering bringing up the real history of Thanks-taking to her family.