November 26th, 1970 was a Thursday, and we had the day off school. Having just immigrated to Massachusetts a few months before, I didn’t know anything about this American holiday and my family didn’t have any particular plans. So when friends invited me to go down to Plymouth with them for a protest in solidarity with the local Native Americans, I was game. It was to be a day of fasting, I was told, and I was fine with that, too.
A group of our high-school friends drove down from Brookline: Norah, Andrew, me, and I don’t remember who else. Arriving at the seaside, we joined a small but spirited group of Indians and a few non-Indian supporters gathered in a straggly circle. Speeches were made, from which I gathered that the story told about Thanksgiving was a myth and a lie, and that for the Native people of this country, it was more properly a day of mourning than of celebration. They had welcomed the strangers with food and material assistance and had been repaid with betrayal and genocide. Plymouth Rock was not a national monument but a national disgrace, and we would now proceed there to symbolically express our sorrow and anger.
I had never heard of either Plymouth Rock or the Mayflower before that day, but I joined the group in throwing handfuls of sand on the little rock in its metal pen, and then followed the crowd as it surged onto the ship—or a replica of the ship, as I learned much later. Surprisingly, I don’t remember any police presence whatsoever; perhaps the action was so unexpected that no overtime detail had been dispatched, especially at a time when the officers would all have been home feasting with their families. In any case, after the protestors had milled about on the deck for a time, venting righteous anger on the life-sized Pilgrim mannequins on board, it was decided to return peacefully to the shore, which we did without incident, and then dispersed.
My memory of the rest of that bleak November day is hazy. You can read Akim Reinhardt’s account, Taking Back Plymouth Rock, on 3QuarksDaily and another on the website of the United American Indians of New England. Before returning home, we visited Plimoth Plantation, which, strangely enough, was almost deserted. The staff, all dressed in period outfits, were preparing to re-enact the first Thanksgiving by roasting a whole deer—or a replica of a deer, I can’t recall which.
I have now lived in the United States for more than 40 years and, despite everything, have found myself entering into the spirit of this uniquely American holiday. This year we have not one but two gatherings scheduled, with my parents on the Thursday and with my in-laws the day after. But I feel a pang as I read of UAINE’s plans to mark the 41st National Day of Mourning. If I weren’t the one cooking on Thursday, November 25th, I would gladly slip away from the feasting to fast, as I did on my very first Thanksgiving in this brave new world.