On Thanksgiving and sanctuary: A reflection - Generocity Philly

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Nov. 27, 2019 9:25 am

On Thanksgiving and sanctuary: A reflection

Our U.S. Thanksgiving origin story makes Carmela Apolonio Hernández's action at 10 a.m. today especially poignant.

As you gather at your Thanksgiving table on Thursday, it wouldn't be out of place to reflect on the fact that the foods many of us will be eating had their earliest origins in Mesoamerica.

(Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels)

Thanksgiving — with its attendant origin story of a feast shared by Indigenous people with English colonists recently arrived in a new land and dependent on the native people’s know-how, sense of community and outright generosity for their survival — is a uniquely U.S. holiday.

The other countries in the Americas don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, except for Canada, and even our neighbors to the North don’t celebrate it in quite the way we do. To start, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving the second Monday in October, not the fourth Thursday in November. But more significantly, the Canadian celebration of gratitude for bounty doesn’t hinge on the same origin story as ours.

It is that origin story that makes Carmela Apolonio Hernández‘s action today especially poignant.

The Mexican immigrant, who has lived in sanctuary with her children since 2017 —first at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia and now at Germantown Mennonite Church — will today start fasting every Wednesday to raise awareness about draconian policies we’ve instituted to punish and deport those migrating to our shores.

Apolonio Hernández is one of seven women living in sanctuary who will be raising awareness this way, according to a statement by the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia. Members of the advocacy organization will accompany Apolonio Hernández, not only at today’s 10 a.m. press conference at Germantown Mennonite launching the National Fast for Freedom, but also by fasting on Wednesdays in solidarity with her.

Carmela Apolonio Hernández (center) with her children (from l) Fidel, Yoselin, Edwin and Keyri. (Photo from New Sanctuary Movement’s Facebook page)

“Carmela fasts to lift up how many families are spending this season separated, detained, and isolated due to inhumane immigration policies,” said New Sanctuary Movement’s codirector, Peter Pedemonti via email.

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“Carmela and her children, Edwin, Yoselin, Keyri, and Fidel, were issued a family order of deportation after their asylum petition was denied last year,” Pedemonti added. “They came to the U.S. fleeing the violence of the U.S.-backed drug wars in Mexico, which claimed the lives of three of their closest family members and led to physical assault of Carmela and her oldest daughter. Should Carmela and her children be deported, their lives will be in imminent danger.”

You have to wonder what the people — both Indigenous and English colonial — at the “first” Thanksgivng would have thought of the kind of governance that would rather see newcomers endangered than willing to extend assistance or sustenance.

But individuals can help, according to the folks at NSM.

You can “sign up to fast with Carmela every Wednesday. Post and share about your experience as a way to educate your networks about how long these families have lived inside of churches and how urgently they need concrete action. Post online with the hashtag #Carmelalibre,” they say.

In addition, NSM notes that Apolonio Hernández’s children have initiated a video campaign asking people to post a 1-minute video urging presidential candidates and legislators to put pressure on ICE and USCIS to stop the deportation of Apolonio Hernández and all sanctuary families.

As you gather at your Thanksgiving table on Thursday, it wouldn’t be out of place to reflect on the fact that the foods many of us will be eating — corn, squash and turkeys — had their earliest origins in Mesoamerica before embarking on their journey northward, through Indigenous care and cultivation, to be shared on the board at Plymouth Colony in the 1620s.

And to those sitting around the table with us, if the topic of immigrants and immigration comes up during conversation, we can echo the words of one of those pilgrims (as recorded in a 1622 book by G. Mouts, A Relation or Journal of the beginnings and proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plymouth in NEW ENGLAND, by certain English Adventurers, both Merchants and others.): We are in all places strangers and pilgrims, travelers and sojourners.

How about we offer welcome instead of hardship, and invite our fellow sojourners to take a seat the table and partake in the feast with us?

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