By Breanne Vailes
I just attended an event -- the 14th Annual Refugee First Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner hosted by the African Community Center here in Denver. Both new Americans and those who’ve never left the country were sitting side by side, savoring a meal, and sharing bits of their lives. Though a few countries outside the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving, it is typically considered an American holiday. It seems that, for many families in the U.S., Thanksgiving has focused on eating tasty food, spending time with loved ones, and maybe focusing inwardly on gratitude. But, for some of those whose extended family members are thousands of miles (or kilometers) away, Thanksgiving could be considered as just another day. However, when a community comes together as family, giving thanks manifests itself as a communal event with rhythmic music and spicy dishes as diverse as the cultures represented. In this way, Thanksgiving transforms into a holiday to give and receive food and fellowship as a city-wide family.
One aspect of the event that struck me was the large number of non-refugee attendees. Wasn’t this event mainly meant for people celebrating their first Thanksgiving? Well, I think everyone has a hunger for community. The give and take of knowing someone different from oneself necessitates a growth like none other. Some people, like refugees, have this growth thrust upon them when they enter a new country, and they find communal events, like the Thanksgiving dinner or DPL’s Plaza program, to connect with others. Some people who have always lived in America realize the privilege of engaging with the unknown. I came away from the event with gratitude for the different languages and customs represented there, realizing that many people are hungry for such a space, maybe even more than for the turkey and dressing.
Many aspects of the event reminded me of DPL’s Plaza Program. Plaza staff, volunteers, and customers understand that community is necessary for thriving, both personally and collectively. Through its weekly activities and cultural excursions to events, Plaza provides space for connection. Sure, people need food, housing, medical care, and so on, but there is something about human connection that is deeply essential for people. I think Thanksgiving exists as an outworking of that need, as a way to visibly see the gratitude for loved ones in the act of being together. This should be more than an annual occurrence, though, right? And I am thankful for Plaza and other community organizations that make space for communion between new Americans and those who seek connection with them.
Plazas are an open community space where migrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our web page for more information.