Thursday, November 26, 2009

The REAL First Thanksgiving Was in El Paso

Actually the Pilgrims weren't first.
True: the US celebrates Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday each November in their honor. And, yes, family members and friends hold a hearty Thanksgiving dinner, gathering in memory of how they celebrated at Plymouth Plantation in 1621. Their three day harvest celebration of feasting with fowl and with five deer brought by the Native Americans is an important element in the American story.
But the Southwest remembers a different gathering, and it is older. From the New Mexico Genealogical Society:
On April 30, 1598, Spanish nobleman Don Juan de Oñate and a group of settlers traveling northward from Zacatecas, Nueva España (now Mexico), reached the banks of El Rio Bravo (Rio Grande). The first recorded act of thanksgiving by colonizing Europeans on this continent occurred on that April day in 1598 in Nuevo Mexico, about 25 miles south of what is now El Paso, Texas.
The 400 person colonizing expedition is well recorded by Gaspar Perez de Villagrá, Spanish poet who traveled with the group. They were in quest of land and honor, but, Villagrá says: "We were sadly lacking in all knowledge of the stars, the winds, and other knowledge by which to guide our steps."
On April 30, 1598, the scouts made camp along the Rio Grande and prepared to drink and eat their fill, for there they found fishes and waterfowl.
Villagrá wrote, "We built a great bonfire and roasted meat and fish, and then sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before." Before this bountiful meal, the expedition leader Don Juan de Oñate personally nailed a cross to a living tree and prayed.
So on April 30, many with roots in New Mexico commemorate that First Thanksgiving, not with "turkey and all the trimmings" but with the knowledge that its ancestors helped settle and develop this land-through tenacity, perseverance and deep faith. It is partly through their contributions that America was destined to become unique; providing freedom as well as opportunity to all people wishing to come to its shores. -- The New Mexico Genealogical Society

This report is illustrated with photos of a well-known painting by preeminent El Paso artist Hal Marcus: El Paso Thanksgiving/El Paso Gracias a Dios. It hangs at Chamizal National Monument in El Paso, Texas. The artist's statement accompanies the oil on canvas:
"This is my imaginative scenario of El Paso's first Thanksgiving. I tried to convey the celebration of life that makes this theme the cultural banquet that it is. It's a poetic vision. In 1598, nearly 23 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, a large group of Spanish colonists rested from their hard march northward and gave thanks along the banks of the Rio Grande long before there were borders. They feasted with the Jumano Indians who greeted them. This scenario is my dream with all the spirits, archetypes and imagery of Mexico past, present and future in El Paso.

EL SOL is the gloriously golden Sun Carnival Host gazing at us with the eyes of perception and ageless beauty."

The painting is dedicated to the Chamizal National Memorial.
Prints of the work are available for sale at the Hal Marcus website.
Everyday, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself to expand my heart out to others for the benefit of all beings. ~ His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
Living with an attitude of Thanksgiving is more important than quibbling over who was first. Give thanks for this day. Thank you for reading this report. Billie Greenwood
The New Mexico Genealogical Society website: "The First Thanksgiving (The Pilgrims Missed It)" by Pauline Chavez Bent
Word for the Day:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

From Today's Inbox

Found in my email inbox today. This was sent from the man we worked with/for at the day shelter for the past five months~

Subject: Good news!

[Name omitted] came by today, after calling to see if it was okay. "I don't want to be a bother or anything" he said. That right there was a difference that startled me. He walked in, all smiles, calm, cool, and collected. He's like a different guy. He's still [first name], but without the negative. He is clean and looks healthier, too. He's back with his parents and it's working out.
He wanted me to pass on a thanks to the both of you. He said you two made a good difference in bad time in his life.
That's the kind of thing that makes it worth it to me.
I didn't get to say my "See ya laters!" properly either, doggone bronchitis, but I wish you both safe travels and pleasant days! Look forward to seeing and working with you again soon.

I read this message aloud to my husband when I opened it and started crying before I got to the end. I'm crying now just from re-reading this message. The young homeless man referred to had so very many mental health problems! He was a tremendous pain in the neck (I mean that in the most loving way possible!) but somehow he took a liking to my husband and myself and the fellow who sent us this note. And we all took a liking to him. Even though it was not easy sometimes.

Receiving this message comes at a very good time of closure for us, as we leave Iowa tomorrow. I wanted to post this message here so I would not forget. So I can come back here and read this again and again.

If you have the opportunity to volunteer, do yourself a big favor and accept that role--whatever it may be. I know I will die happy because of the opportunities I've had to experience moments like this.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blog Blast For Peace: On my way to a war zone

A week from today I depart from my home state of birth (Iowa) to spend five months volunteering along the US-Mexico border in El Paso, TX. Blog Blast for Peace means something concrete to me: I'm moving to a war zone.

Drug cartels are battling for control of the valuable portal into the U.S. which is Juarez-El Paso. In October the murder average was 10 per day in Juarez, an easy 40 minute stroll away from my front door.

Here are today's (11/4/2009) newspaper headlines:

El Paso TX, the sister city of Juarez, is ranked one of the safest cities in the US for its size. While the murder total so far for this year in Juarez is over 1900, the number stands at just 10 for El Paso. But can you imagine living just a mile away from that murder and mayhem? Even reading the morning newspaper is daunting. Mangled women's cadavers discovered in vacant lots...maybe even right downtown. Lawyers assassinated in the downtown streets. Ten thousand federal troops occupying the city. Juarez is one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a friend or relative in Juarez. The war affects us all.

The United States is implicated in all the violence in many ways. But we have institutionalized our "innocence." Our drug czar is bound by law to resist any discussion of the legalization of drugs which are currently illegal. We build a wall to defend ourselves. It is then possible to point fingers: Why can't Mexico handle the problem? Why are they so corrupt? We can ask questions self-rightously from the other side.

If we want peace, we need to work for justice.
If we want peace, we need to dismantle racism.
If we want peace, we must promote economic opportunity for all.
If we want peace, we must do the inner work of healing and recovery, both personally and as a nation.

If we want peace, we can begin by opening our eyes to the realities from which we are largely insulated.

War is not so very far away.

Walking the line between pleasure and pain
Biding my time between loss and gain
I've run out of roads, I've traveled them all
Down at the border by the one-sided wall

Down at the border, facing that wall
Racking my brain for the cause of it all
No one to point to, no one to blame
I can't be the only one stuck in this game

Borderless love, the land of the free
Borderless love, how far can you see?
Borderless love, there's no border at all
In a borderless love there's no need for a wall

When I feel what I feel, when I see what I see
Why do my heart and my head disagree?
A one-sided wall, is it all in the mind?
Who can see more than one side at a time?

A wall is a mirror that can only reveal
One side of a story that passes for real
But break it all down, it all becomes clear
It's the fearless who love and the loveless who fear

Borderless love, the land of the free
Borderless love, how far can you see?
Borderless love, there's no fear at all
In a borderless love there's no need for a wall

Over, under, around and through
Life is love and love is true
Over, under, around and through
Walls of thunder, skies of blue