Share your Thanks­giv­ing ta­ble with refugees

It may be awk­ward, but pre­pare to have your heart wrung, says Nancy Lovell

The Dallas Morning News - - Viewpoints - Nancy Lovell is a writer in Dal­las. She wrote this col­umn for The Dal­las Morn­ing News.

If you can men­tally steer past adult-si­b­ling dy­nam­ics, tele­vised-game sched­ules, and meal prep (not that they don’t mat­ter) this Thanks­giv­ing, con­sider a U-turn to 1621 to also share your day with a few re­cent ar­rivals.

I mean to say that what Pil­grims were to the Ply­mouth-area Wam­panoags, refugees are to Dal­l­a­sites: sur­vivors of a rough voy­age, strangers in an un­fa­mil­iar and of­ten harsh en­vi­ron­ment. And in Texas, hos­pi­tal­ity trumps pol­i­tics.

If you do it, if you add the ex­tra place set­tings, ex­pect some dis­com­fort. Ex­pect lan­guage trou­bles. And brace to have your heart wrung.

I’ve seen a rancher’s wife cry with worry for the safety of a young Ira­nian man, one of three broth­ers she once re­flex­ively feared and now un­abashedly moth­ers. I’ve seen High­land Park friends help­ing a Syr­ian mother of six pro­mote her tex­tile work on­line. An­other group won’t miss a birth­day or a surgery for “their” Afghan fam­ily of two par­ents and two dis­abled kids.

Right now, 68.5 mil­lion peo­ple in the world are dis­placed, un­able to be home; 28 mil­lion are refugees or asy­lum seek­ers. Of the frac­tion of them who get to the U.S., for rea­sons that in­clude weather and the econ­omy, our part of Texas gets the most, and this is our call to ac­tion.

Check with your kids’ schools or any school. Call your church or a refugee ser­vice like Gate­way of Grace or Catholic Char­i­ties or Jewish Fam­ily Ser­vices. Google “Dal­las Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Re­sources.” If your gath­er­ing will have school-age kids, ask for a fam­ily with sim­i­lar ages. If you’re older, in­vite a young fam­ily. If you’re for­mer mil­i­tary, in­vite some­one who got here by help­ing our mil­i­tary over there. Ask about se­niors liv­ing alone. And send some­one to pick up your guests.

A few other guide­lines.

1. Try to imag­ine. Ev­ery Thanks­giv­ing, Christ­mas and Easter, Gate­way of Grace throws a big party for the refugees it serves, be­cause the first U.S. hol­i­days for its founder, Samira Page, were crush­ingly lonely. Ig­no­rant of the hol­i­day or its mean­ing, she watched as Amer­ica blew it out to cel­e­brate with­out her and her fam­ily.

2. Ask a few ba­sic ques­tions. Ask the refugee ser­vice for cul­tural ground rules. For ex­am­ple: You may want to avoid tak­ing pho­tos. And, are you sit­ting down? Most non-amer­i­cans dis­like turkey. So you may wish to:

3. Add a turkey al­ter­na­tive. As I think about it, in Eu­rope or the Mid­dle East, I’ve never seen turkey on a menu. Pick up a ro­tis­serie chicken to add to the ta­ble.

4. Down­load Google Trans­la­tor. Your com­mu­ni­ca­tion is­sue is clar­ity, not vol­ume. Speak nor­mally, and slow down and enun­ci­ate. Keep a cell­phone or lap­top close for Google Trans­la­tor, which en­sures noth­ing in terms of ac­cu­racy, but serves as a po­ten­tially wicked ice­breaker. As with auto cor­rect at its most out­ra­geous, speak­ers of both lan­guages may fall out laugh­ing.

5. Be ready to ex­plain Thanks­giv­ing. Do not men­tion mas­sacres from the dark side of early Thanks­giv­ing his­to­ries. Do re­cap the grate­ful spir­its of the sur­viv­ing Pil­grims in Ply­mouth, Mass., and the Wam­panoag In­di­ans shar­ing har­vest fes­ti­val bounty. Abra­ham Lin­coln made it of­fi­cial.

6. As you can, help net­work. One Thanks­giv­ing at a Gate­way of Grace event serv­ing chicken and dress­ing, I met a Cen­tral Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal refugee whose daugh­ter had Down syn­drome, as does my neigh­bor’s daugh­ter. With one call to my neigh­bor, I learned of a Span­ish-speak­ing as­so­ci­a­tion for moth­ers of Down kids, and I got the group’s num­ber. One call.

7. From time to time, check in. Show a refugee fam­ily the Dal­las Zoo, an Amer­i­can home, a chance to prac­tice English, a pic­nic in spring at a city park. As needed, do­nate fur­ni­ture still in good shape, or a used car.

New faces across the ta­ble will be awk­ward, es­pe­cially at first, and the day might end with­out a sin­gle soft-fo­cus Hall­mark mo­ment. Some­one may miss part of a game. It’s pos­si­ble your guests will pick at your mother’s salad. Do it any­way.

Your din­ner guests will leave you with a fresh per­spec­tive, and you’ll likely have a wob­bly new friend­ship. And you’ll feel grate­ful.

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