I choose to cherish Thanksgiving, not to go shopping

     Protestors outside a Walmart store (Nick Ut/AP Photo)

    Protestors outside a Walmart store (Nick Ut/AP Photo)

    This year more companies began opening their doors on the cherished holiday, forcing millions of employees instead to choose between a time-honored and federally recognized tradition and their livelihood — their families’ livelihoods.Deciding what to do for Thanksgiving was always a tough choice for me growing up.

    My first memories of the holiday involved a half-dozen international students and their families crowded around an undersized Salvation Army-bought dinner table sharing with one another their local customs and delicacies.

    This in many ways, just three months after I emigrated to the U.S. from Brazil, seemed like the prototypical ideal of the American experience and the holiday itself — a diverse group of different colors, clans and creeds coming together in a new space to form a new tradition, a new history.

    For some reason though, in the beginning, the experience always felt incomplete. While most families feasted on gobs of cobbler and mounds of gravy-covered mashed potatoes, we splurged on things like banh mi, chicken tikka and feijoada. While I reveled in our collective worldliness, I also yearned for the traditional — the typical American experience. One without the other felt distant and detached, so over time we began to merge the two.

    Within a few years, our plates of Brazilian farofa and rabadana were side by side with American cranberries, pumpkin pies and a sublime gravy-doused and stuffing-dressed turkey — what felt like the best of both worlds.

    The uneasiness of the first few years, feeling out of place in our new home, slowly dissipated over time. As we merged the traditions, our identities inadvertently merged with them.

    I grew to appreciate my family more and more for choosing that path collectively, and a country that gave us the space in which to make that decision.

    Unfortunately, this Thanksgiving, many families weren’t given the same choice.

    This year more companies began opening their doors on the cherished holiday, forcing millions of employees instead to choose between a time-honored and federally recognized tradition and their livelihood — their families’ livelihoods.

    Companies such as Big Lots, Walmart, Best Buy and Target have all decided to forsake their employees’ right to celebrate with their friends and family in order to further cash in on the year’s biggest shopping bonanza.

    Yesterday stores opened as early as 7 a.m., with many others opting to open just in time for Thanksgiving dinner, a time I’ve always been able to devote to friends and family from all corners of the world.

    Just like many of the international students I spent my first few Thanksgivings  with in this country, a large segment of the retail employees who graciously greeted shoppers on yesterday’s federal holiday are of low income. A majority of Walmart hourly workers, for example, earn less than $25,000 annuallyjust above the poverty line for a family of four.

    What’s worse is that these low-wage, low-security and often part-time workers individually simply don’t have the bargaining power to take on their massive employers in the fight for justice and fairness.

    For these reasons many have decided to unite and fight back against the corporate greed and rampant consumerism that has made us lose sight of not just the spirit of the holiday, but also of basic human respect and consideration.

    This sentiment has spurred numerous nationwide protests, including #WalmartStrikers, #NotOneDime and #BlackOutFriday.

    These movements though will only be successful if they are supported by a broad cross-section of our society. For some this might mean forsaking the best and latest deal on a new DVD or iPad, but when it comes to fair labor and basic human decency, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

    I now see that choosing what kind of Thanksgiving dinner I was going to have — how I was going to meld my meals from home and adoptive countries and their associated traditions — wasn’t a difficult decision at all; it was a privilege.

    Now we must all come to the table and decide if this is how we plan to treat other workers — how we’d hope we’d be treated — to create a new tradition, a new history.

    The choice belongs to all of us, only this time, it’s not so tough.

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