The Displaced Nation

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Thanksgiving, the ultimate holiday of the displaced—and still going strong

The Displaced Nation feels a special kinship to Thanksgiving. It strikes us as being, when all is said and done, the holiday of the displaced.

Quite a lot is being said about Thanksgiving these days. But before we get into that (actually, we may not have much time to get into it), let’s quickly review what we know to be true about the holiday’s origins:

  • The Pilgrims sailed to North America from Plymouth, England, on the Mayflower in 1620, disembarking at what is now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  • A year later, in 1621, they celebrated a successful harvest with a three-day gathering that was attended by members of the Wampanoag tribe.

What we haven’t been able to establish, however, is how both Native Americans and settlers came to be at the same feast. Did the Pilgrims invite the Wambanoah out of gratitude for their assistance in planting corn and showing them where to fish? We simply don’t know. What we do know, of course, is that the Native Americans were eventually displaced from their lands.

It is hardly surprising, then, that some now see Thanksgiving as a story of a displaced people thanking the about-to-be displaced natives.

Hmmm… Does that story make the United States the closest thing the world has to a Displaced Nation?

But I digress. Returning to the topic at hand: no matter how you slice or dice it (hm, an appropriate Thanksgiving metaphor?), Thanksgiving remains a tradition of a shared harvest feast, one that started up in North America (yes, the Canadians celebrate it, too) around four centuries ago and is still going strong today. In fact, many of us continue to add layers of displacement to our Thanksgiving meals, as the following round-up of food-oriented posts will attest.

No longer exclusively a North American holiday

As Fodor’s Travel points out in a recent post, you can now have your turkey (with all the trimmings) in…Turkey! Also in France, Argentina, Australia, China…

Of the menus described in the Fodors post, I would pick the one offered by the Restaurant at Brown’s, in London. Admittedly, I’m biased because of having lived in England for quite a few years (my first displacement). How I wish I’d been able to have Thanksgiving in a restaurant then!

England may not be known for its food, but something the English do superbly well are desserts, aka puddings. And for dessert on its special Thanksgiving menu, Restaurant at Brown’s offers pumpkin and Peruvian gold chocolate pie. Sounds scrummy.

Something else the Brits do well are vegetarian dishes. Now I’m not a vegetarian, but I almost became one during my expat years because Brits are so creative with veggies.

Were I to indulge in the Thanksgiving meal at the Restaurant at Brown’s, I might be tempted to order the Montgomery’s cheddar pie instead of turkey. One reason is that I’m not a great fan of roast turkey. Another is that I’m tempted to eat cheddar any time I’m in the Birthplace of Cheddar Cheese, it being one of my all-time favorites (apologies to France).

The traditional menu keeps being tweaked

But we don’t have to travel all the way across the pond, let alone to China or Australia, to find updates on the traditional Thanksgiving menu. New immigrants to the United States are constantly re-interpreting traditional Thanksgiving ingredients—I have to assume because many of them, like me, are not great fans of roast turkey.

Take, for example, food blogger Eugenia George, a Salvadorian married to an American and living in Southern California. “No one else does turkey like we do,” she declares in her post Salvadorian Holiday Turkey. She uses her mother’s recipe, which involves roasting and then braising the turkey in a tomato-based sauce that’s packed with flavor and spices. “Dry turkey? Nope. Not this one,” she writes.” It’s juicy, succulent, and the meat just falls off the bones.”

Another good example is scifi and fantasy writer Brenda Clough, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant to the United States and a Third Culture Kid (she spent much of her childhood overseas). Like George, she credits her mother with making Thanksgiving more delicious. She says her mother figured out how to make the Thanksgiving turkey Chinese by stuffing it with sweet, glutinous Japanese short-grain rice that had been combined with shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp, onion, celery, water chestnuts and dried Chinese sausage. Even though the family is now spread across the country, Clough, who lives in the D.C. area, says that every one of their Thanksgiving tables will feature some version of this sticky-rice stuffing (recipe here).

It is frequently said that the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers—and for those of us who’ve lived or traveled abroad for significant periods, the morning after Thanksgiving has become an occasion to innovate. Not your plain old turkey sandwiches for us!

Some years ago on the Displaced Nation, I reported I’d created a dish for turkey leftovers: chirashi-turkey-zushi, inspired by my second displacement (in Tokyo). Basically you substitute turkey pieces for the raw fish.

This year I noticed that Stephanie of i am a food blog provides a recipe for turkey curry udon, which, in addition to providing a quick and satisfying way to use turkey leftovers is also “guaranteed to take you straight into the streets of Tokyo, at least in your mind,” she writes.

The story itself keeps getting rewritten

Just as fairy tales need updating for a new generation, so too does the Thanksgiving story.

New York-based writer Robert Sullivan recently produced a piece for Vogue on a group of six indigenous chefs, members of tribes from around North America. They met together in New York for the first time during Thanksgiving week to launch a new indigenous activist group, called the I-Collective, a kind of platform to showcase Native American food. On Thanksgiving evening itself, they hosted a dinner with some of their dishes. In effect, Sullivan says, they were rewriting Thanksgiving history.

They weren’t the only professional cooks doing something creative. Chef José Andrés, a displaced Spaniard (he recently became an American citizen), spent the weeks before Thanksgiving mobilizing a massive team of chefs and volunteers in Puerto Rico to produce 30,000+ Thanksgiving meals—”what may be the island’s biggest-ever Thanksgiving dinner”—for those displaced by Hurricane Maria.

Thanksgiving, after all, should belong to the chefs—and the fact that some of them are joining the national conversation about the meaning of this holiday of the displaced, bodes well for its future. While there will always be those of us—for instance, the Vietnamese American novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen—with misgivings about celebrating displacement, maybe the best, the only(?) solution is simply to make the party bigger?

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, often composes pieces of this kind for the biweekly Displaced Dispatch. In fact she will be doing something on a related theme for the upcoming issue. Why not subscribe and brighten up your global creative life every couple of weeks?

Photo credit: Thanksgiving postcard via Pixabay.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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Expat, repat, and otherwise displaced reactions to the 2016 US presidential race

the-trump-panel

Welcome to the Displaced Nation’s virtual panel discussion on the most recent presidential election in America. (Hey, we figured if the pundits could get it all wrong, we could all be pundits, too!)

Before we get started, let me quickly explain how this panel came about. As some of you may know, I lived abroad for many years and, since repatriating to the United States, I’ve often felt like an exile in my own country. That said, the election of political outsider Donald Trump did not entirely surprise me. As explained in the most recent Displaced Dispatch, I had good information sources.

But if it didn’t surprise me, it definitely rocked my view of politics as usual in my native land. In the immediate aftermath, I wanted to be around other like-minded people here in New York City rather than being alone with my thoughts.

Likewise, I had the urge to reach out to the members of the international creative crowd we’ve gathered here at the Displaced Nation. How are they processing the news of America’s Brexit? And what impact do they see it having on their far-flung lives—beginning with the possibility of awkward holiday dinners with families?

A motley lot we expats, repats, and otherwise displaced types may be; but we, too, deserve a chance to say what we think.

And now, over to the panel…

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MARIANNE BOHR, American Francophile: In a lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with my husband. We were on a cross-country trip to move to Park City, Utah, for our early retirement. I was in shock as I saw state after state in the Trump column.

ANTHONY WINDRAM, British expat (now a U.S. citizen) in New York City: I watched the results at home with a makeshift newsroom. I flitted between CNN on the TV, a different cable news channel on my iPad, twitter on my phone, and various news sites on the laptop. But as the results came in, and the narrative arc of the night started to become apparent, I felt I needed to be away from the constant breaking news and the increasingly hysterical tone of Wolf Blitzer. The repulsion I felt at the result was visceral. Brexit is the closest comparison, but with the British referendum result, I just felt sadness. The Brexit vote centered around fairly abstract ideas about sovereignty and Britain and Europe—thus a toad like Nigel Farage could be dismissed as a distraction; but this election was centered around the carnival barking demagoguery of Trump, and the knowledge that he will not be going away for, at least, the next four years and that he now has a permanent, prominent place in the history of this country, is nauseating.

HE RYBOL, Adult Third Culture Kid based in Luxembourg (moving soon to Canada): I heard it on the car radio on my way home. No thoughts, just disbelief, sadness, frustration, anger. If I had any thoughts, they were about the rise of nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s in Europe.

INDRA CHOPRA, Indian and serial expat: In my hometown, Gurgaon, India, preparing for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights (October 30). Diwali is a celebration of good over evil but this year the festival stars Trump-ted the message. I was not surprised by the result as I had been following the campaign projections and stories during my stays of the past summer in the USA and Canada. I did feel let down by Hillary Clinton’s defeat, she is more qualified and deserving of the two and secondly it is time for the USA to have a woman president.

LISA LIANG, Adult Third Culture Kid based in Los Angeles: At home on the couch in our living room. I was in numb shock, not because I didn’t think it could happen, but because I had known it could and had decided to be optimistic for the last 36 hours because my psyche could no longer handle the dread and uncertainty. I could not sleep most of that night. The pain, grief, and rage arrived the next day and have peaked and dropped and peaked again on different days.

JACK SCOTT, former British expat in Turkey, now living in Norwich, UK: I first heard about Donald Trump’s victory on the morning news here in Britain. It was a wakeup call, but after Brexit, not entirely unexpected. I think we all know that both outcomes are a symptom of something deeper and more socially corrosive. There are a lot of people out there who feel marooned in poverty with little hope of rescue, including members of my own family. So it was okay to bail out the bankers but not the steelworkers? Really? If I was a praying man, I’d be on my knees hoping that Trump will be less incendiary in office than he has been on the podium, but I wouldn’t bet my shirt on it. Stoking up the darkest fears of those at the bottom of the heap is what got him elected. How a man born to enormous privilege can possibly understand the worries of the common man or woman is beyond me. But then I don’t understand the appeal of former merchant banker, Nigel Farage, either.

ML AWANOHARA, former American expat in UK and Japan, now living in New York: I spent the first part of the evening with a group of seven international friends in my NYC apartment building—only three of whom (myself included) were born here. One of our hosts was born in Montreal and the other in Taiwan, and the other two guests, in Asia (one of whom is my husband, who is Japanese). We were drinking wine and eating Chinese food while watching the returns on a huge TV screen. A bottle of bubbly was chilling in the fridge. Several of us left at midnight, when it was clear Hillary was likely to lose. We never popped the cork. The next morning, I couldn’t get over how quiet and glum everyone looked on the subway. At work several of us gathered around a computer screen to watch Hillary’s speech, with Bill standing behind her. The two of them have been political fixtures in this country for so long, it felt like watching the Twin Towers come down. No wonder people are saying 9/11 and 11/9…

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MARIANNE BOHR: It hasn’t changed my views because I remain steadfast in my belief that our country’s system of checks and balances will limit the damage Trump can do. Having lived in France, however, I always think about what the French will say/think about US politics and I’m afraid that many of them are as astounded as Americans. They love President Obama and I’m sure they’re shaking their heads about Trump—while also fearing that his election may indicate what could happen with Marine Le Pen.

ANTHONY WINDRAM: This was the first election I voted in since taking American citizenship. Indeed, this election was one of the primary reasons that I sought citizenship. Now I’ve assumed the nationality, I probably can’t claim displacement anymore: assimilation seems to be the stage I am at now. But there certainly isn’t the pride I felt on the morning when I voted as a US citizen for the first time taking my three-year-old daughter with me to the voting booth. I’m glad she’s only three. I’d have hated to try and explain to an older child that Horrorclown was the President-elect. I also find myself thinking back to my citizenship ceremony. The vast number of Hispanics sworn in with me, the small number of people from the Middle East. The result feels like a stinging rebuke to them from the country they had pledged allegiance to. Perhaps all high schoolers as part of their civic lessons should be taken to see a US naturalization ceremony. (As I write this, it has just occurred to me that as President one of the first duties that Trump will have to do is record a video greeting to be played at all naturalization ceremonies. I would find that grotesque.)

HE RYBOL: If anything, this outcome made me feel how lucky I am to have led an international life, with parents from different countries and with the opportunity to go to university in California (I loved it!). But while I don’t understand how anyone could vote for Trump, I don’t feel comfortable putting all of Trump’s supporters in the same basket, especially considering I’m sitting comfortably on another continent. For some of them, a vote for Trump may be an expression of frustration or even despair, rather than a reflection of who they really are. Part of me would like to encourage them to try living abroad for a while. At the same time, though, I’m aware my suggestion might seem unrealistic for someone who is struggling to make ends meet.

INDRA CHOPRA: I am not directly affected, and neither is my family, by the election verdict. Travel to USA had always been a challenge and additional discourtesies have come to be expected.

LISA LIANG: The election result has made me even more grateful for my TCK upbringing and even more determined to tell my intercultural story in my one-woman show, Alien Citizen, in as many countries as possible. I also want to help countless more people tell their intercultural stories via my workshops. On the painful side, the election has made me wonder if traveling will be harder because US citizens will be reviled and/or because the president elect will find other ways to make it harder. I hope not with all my heart.

JACK SCOTT: Viewing the world from our window, I feel rather insulated from the tragi-comedy engulfing us. I’m glad we chose Norwich to pitch our tent after our Anatolian adventures. While the cattle and corn county surrounding us voted for Brexit, the city itself wanted to remain, me included—though even I waivered a bit. The European Union is hard to love. But now the die has been cast, we just have to get on with it, don’t we?

ML AWANOHARA: I’m living in a bubble (that of a repat, with many international friends) inside a bubble (New York City), so, yes, I’m feeling rather exposed at this point! On the other hand, this election made me realize I do know something—in fact, my knowledge came from my early years abroad. While in the UK, I wrote a doctoral thesis on women, politics, and Shakespeare. My conclusion was that women nearly always find it problematic to exercise power when their power derives from a relationship with a powerful man. Unfortunately for Hillary, my findings showed that she would have been better off had she tried to make it to the top on her own steam, as Margaret Thatcher, and now Theresa May, did. But that is of course the rational side of me. The emotional side is breathing a giant sigh of relief I’m no longer an expat—I can imagine how weary I’d be by now of being asked by everyone I meet to explain the Trump phenomenon. And how much worse, now that he’s the president-elect! I’m also thinking back to the days when I first went abroad and felt happy to be escaping a society I’d come to see, even at that tender age, as fat (literally), lazy (wanting something for nothing), shallow (“shop until you drop”) and degenerate (hopelessly dysfunctional). Even so, I hadn’t quite foreseen that Washington would one day become a reality show!

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MARIANNE BOHR: No. I have to say that all my friends have political beliefs that are similar to mine. As I come from a family of eleven children, I learned long ago that we disagree about politics and religion and that we do not discuss them. They simmer under the surface but it’s dangerous to let them boil over. The burns would leave scars.

ANTHONY WINDRAM: I’ve never considered it before, but the family argument regarding politics over the holiday dinner is such an American trope. It doesn’t seem to exist to the same extent in Britain. Perhaps it’s our lack of a Thanksgiving? When eating our big holiday dinner at Christmas, it’s hard to feel mad at individuals who have just showered you with presents and with whom you can look forward to watching Downton Abbey or a Doctor Who Christmas special. By contrast, at Thanksgiving you feel oddly trapped with your family, and America doesn’t do good holiday TV so families have to actually interact with each other—never a good idea. But you know, even if I discovered that my values clash with a family member or friend, I think I’d be okay. I’m surprisingly diplomatic in person. I’ve always had very close friends of differing political persuasions to my own, and I’ve always been a little suspicious of people who don’t. We all know who among friends and family we can have a reasonable political discussion with irrespective of our differences, and who just wants to vent. It’s always best not to engage with the venters—just treat them as dinner theater (which is just as well considering the lack of good holiday TV in the US!).

HE RYBOL: Nope, thankfully the members of my immediate family—our nationalities include German, French, Luxembourgish and Italian—are all on the same side, as our friends who visit that time of year (whose nationalities also include Dutch, Belgian, Brazilian, Swedish, English, and Portuguese).

INDRA CHOPRA: Luckily it seems, this question doesn’t apply to me.

LISA LIANG: Nope. Everyone in my immediate family, and among my close friends, voted for Hillary Clinton. I also made it clear on Facebook at 1:00 a.m. on the calamitous night that anyone who didn’t vote for her could unfriend me. In my life, I don’t need anyone who voted for—or helped enable the election of—a Ku Klux Klan-endorsed, xenophobic, bullier of the disabled, likely rapist and his religious fanatic VP. Those details absolutely cannot be compartmentalized no matter how many people insist that they can.

JACK SCOTT: As far as Brexit goes: Most friends tend to be remainers, unless they’re closet Brexiteers of course (and I suspect a few are). And I’ve long since kept politics out of the conversation, family-wise. We’re a diverse group and it pays to keep mum. Of course, Mother herself is a devoted Brexiteer, as is common for her wartime generation. The old girl doesn’t get out much these days—and didn’t make it to the polling booth.

ML AWANOHARA: Funny what Anthony says—I talked politics at many a Christmas gathering in Britain! And I’ve always found it much harder to talk politics with family and friends in the United States. It’s as though we’ve outsourced our politics here so that we don’t have to tax ourselves overly with worrying about it. (Hm, I wonder if that will change now!) In any case, I suspect the topic of the election may surface occasionally at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving party. A couple of us were Bernie supporters, and the younger people who are coming, my nieces, are part of the millennial generation that felt devastated in the wake of Hillary’s loss. My stepfather is too old to travel but if he were joining us, he would attempt to hold up the side for the Republican Party. But even then we’d probably find some common ground as his idea of the Party is much different than Trump’s!

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More about the panelists:

Marianne Bohr is the author of Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries and has been contributing the World of Words column to the Displaced Nation.

Anthony Windram is one of the founders of the Displaced Nation. He has a long-running blog of his own, called Culturally Discombobulated, where he’s been closely covering the 2016 election and now aftermath.

HE Rybol is the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and the recently published Reverse Culture Shock. She has been contributing the Culture Shock Toolbox column to the Displaced Nation.

Indra Chopra contributes to Indian, Middle Eastern and online media. She blogs at TravTrails and has been writing the Accidental Expat column for the Displaced Nation.

Lisa Liang is the creator and star of the solo show Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey. She is also the creator of the Displaced Nation’s TCK Talent column.

Jack Scott is the author of Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey and Turkey Street: Jack and Liam move to Bodrum. He formerly contributed the popular Jack the Hack (writing advice) column to the Displaced Nation.

ML Awanohara is the founding editor of the Displaced Nation. She is currently contributing the Expat Author Game column to the site.

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Readers, do you have anything to add to the panelists’ heart-felt responses? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

And we hope you have (had? by the time you read this…) a happy Thanksgiving, those of you who are celebrating—try not to spoil it by talking politics. 🙂

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of biweekly posts from The Displaced Nation and soooo much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: Top visual: Panelist photos (supplied). Q1 visual: Donald Trump Backyard Photo Sign at Night – West Des Moines, Iowa, by Tony Webster via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Q2 visual: Bursting bubble via Pixabay. Q3 visual: Thanksgiving dinner, by Marilyn C. Cole via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

TCK TALENT: Nina Sichel, writer, editor, and guiding light on the Third Culture Kid experience

Nina Sichel_TCK TalentElizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about growing up as a TCK, which she has taken all over the country. In fact, she turned up as the convocation speaker at Carleton College on October 31st, where my niece, now a Carleton freshman, had the pleasure of watching her perform some excerpts!

—ML Awanohara

Welcome back, readers! Today I’m honored to be interviewing Nina Sichel, co-editor of the seminal TCK / global-nomad anthology Unrooted Childhoods, which includes essays by several famous TCK writers such as:

  • Pico Iyer: “I fold up my self and carry it round with me as if it were an overnight case”;
  • Isabel Allende (she fled her homeland for political survival); and
  • Military brat Pat Conroy: “Each year I began my life all over again . . . and I think it damaged me.”

In addition, she co-edited the TCK / global-nomad anthology Writing Out of Limbo—to which I contributed. Thank you, Nina, for the hard work you did on my first published essay!

Nina grew up in Venezuela and “repatriated” to the USA for college and beyond; she is a writer, editor, and leader of memoir-writing workshops in Virginia.

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Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Nina. I understand that you grew up in a multicultural household as a TCK in Caracas—the daughter of an American mom and a German-Jewish dad. With Thanksgiving around the corner, my thoughts are turning to the upcoming holidays. Did any particular holiday traditions or celebrations take precedence over others in your household as you were growing up?
My father had to leave Germany when he was 11 and grew up in Uruguay. He seldom spoke about his childhood. He came to the U.S. for college, and, after marrying my mother, lived in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic before settling in Venezuela. After all of those moves, his identity was not at all tied to nationality, and, like so many other choices in his life, citizenship was a matter of practicality. So national holidays were completely unimportant.

What about your mother?
My mother was a nostalgic American—more so when she was in Venezuela than when she was anywhere else. But she was an expat, and U.S. national holidays were not celebrated in that country. My parents’ friends were multinationals—our social circle was not defined by nationality. And, even though my father’s sister and mother, Uruguayan citizens by then, lived in Caracas, close by, we were secular Jews, only going to synagogue on the High Holidays and mostly not even then. We had an abbreviated seder, we lit candles at Chanukah. That Jewish identity, more ethnic, perhaps, than religious, was important to my parents. Yet we had very little religious training. I think things were assumed more than instructed… I remember going to summer camp in the States with Jewish girls from Long Island—and feeling I had absolutely nothing in common with them.

Did you celebrate other holidays?
We had a Christmas tree with lots of presents and sang carols. Santa Claus came till we were too old for him, but there were still gifts afterwards. We dressed up for carnaval, and the Easter bunny came to visit us. Hmmm… I’ve given you a long answer to what should be a simple question—but then, some things are not so simple. Like composite identities.

I was raised with no real roots, an American child in Venezuela…

Writing_Out_of_Limbo_coverWhich brings us to your wonderful essay, “Outsider,” which appears in Writing Out of Limbo. You mention in that piece that there was a lot of turnover among your friends at your international schools. Can you tell us a little more about what that was like?
I never knew, from one school year to the next, which of my classmates would actually be back. I don’t remember ever talking about it; this was normal, nothing remarkable. I remember a few friends who left with advance notice, and I tried to keep in touch with them—pen pals during a time when letters would take one or two weeks to reach their destinations. Those friendships faded over time. Quite a few friends were sent away to boarding school once they reached high school; sometimes they’d be back for summer vacations, but by then I’d usually be in the States. There were also, of course, quite a few children whose parents would stay in Venezuela indefinitely, till retirement and after. And then there were the kids who rotated in and out every couple of years, many of whom were Americans. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how different the ones who stayed as long-term residents were from the ones who rotated in and out. And how difficult it is to make general statements about any of this—there are layers and layers of outsiderness, not just one sort of expat or TCK identity.

Have you still got friends from that period?
I’ve kept strong ties to some friends from my youth, and to me this is very special—they are more like family than friends now. I’ve learned to invest deeply in relationships I hope will last, perhaps because the chances are so fleeting. I’ve felt incredibly lucky to be able to contact some people from my past via the Internet, and rekindle friendships from long ago, and learn how TCK life has affected them, their choices, their lives.

Our memories are the part of life we get to keep and take with us…

After an entire adulthood in the USA, tell us what you still miss about Venezuela. I’m also curious to know how many of those things can still be found there, and how many are connected to memories of family and/or friends who are no longer there?
Though I have lived my adulthood in the U.S., my parents remained in Venezuela, and I went back often to visit until they passed away. The place changed—all places do—and I also changed. My memories now are interwoven with nostalgia for what was or might have been. But there are also tangible things. Venezuela is a beautiful country, and there are things about nature I miss. I miss smells—that thick Caribbean salt air, the tangy grass. I miss tropical light, and will miss it more and more now that we’re approaching winter here.

Nowadays, do you feel at home in the United States?
I do feel “at home” in the States in general; just not rooted in any particular place. As you know from my essays, I’ve lived in several places. I lived in a small town in upstate New York, then Manhattan; I lived in the Deep South two different times; in rural Michigan; in West Palm Beach and then urban Miami; and now I live outside Washington, DC. In the smaller towns, what I missed was diversity—of language, ethnicity, experience, culture. I had to seek it out in the people I befriended and the kind of work I chose to do. But even in the cities, I felt outside the mainstream. Remember, coming to the States was not coming home for me; it was immersion in a different culture.

Unrooted_Childhoods_coverIn Unrooted Childhoods, your co-editor, Faith Eidse, writes about her yearning “for thick gumbo-limbo roots.” Do you sometimes wish your roots were deeper in this country?
I remember being fascinated by a friend’s roots in the Deep South that went back many generations. As my family does not have that history, it was something new and rather foreign to me, an oddity. But it was not something I wanted, as it felt too confining, to be defined by your predecessors that way.

Do you have “itchy feet,” which still make you want to move frequently? Or are you the kind who prefers to have a home base and travel only for pleasure?
Yes yes yes. All of the above. o I have to choose?

You mentioned longing to find other people with the experience of having lived overseas. Have you found that “your people” tend to be other ATCKs in creative fields—or does it really depend on the individual and what s/he evokes in you, whether it’s a resonance that’s artistic or political or personality-related or life-experience related, etc.?
I tend to fall in love with people, with aspects of people, and am constantly surprised that all my friends don’t automatically feel the same about each other as I feel about each of them! So, yes, I think it’s about that resonance that you mentioned, but it’s a different resonance in each person, a different connection I respond to. In any case, I never knew about TCKs or ATCKs until I began to work on Unrooted Childhoods.

I want to choose and gather the markers by which to remember our years here…

Like other ACTKs including myself, you were drawn to the craft of writing as a means of self-expression. Is there a particular piece that you think expresses your feelings of transience or loneliness or instability—or freedom or curiosity or love of travel—that you are most proud of? And where can we read it?
I’m not going to choose among my babies, but anyone who is interested can read my essays in Unrooted Childhoods and Writing Out of Limbo. I also wrote much of the introductory material in both books. There was an essay of mine published recently in Brain, Child Magazine, titled “Leaving,” which many of the readers of this column will surely respond to. And I’ve been posting short blogs on the Children’s Mental Health Network website, to inform readers about issues concerning TCKs.

We both lead workshops for people who want to write about their own lives. Tell us what got you started as a memoir workshop leader.
I’ve always felt torn between creative expression and nurturing others—as though I had to choose, as though the work I’d always done (teaching, counseling, raising children) wasn’t already a combination of the two. When I moved to the Washington, DC area, I developed the memoir and other writing programs I currently offer and am always expanding the menu of choices. The workshops are theme-based, and range in topic from creative change and transformation to intercultural exchange to turning points to writing about place to parenting to… I had a program that I developed once specifically for au pairs, which I’d like to offer again at some point. I keep the workshops small, intimate, supportive. We do not engage in critiquing—most of my writers are beginners in memoir, and need to both give and receive positive feedback to grow into the writers they are becoming. I feel honored by their trust, in bearing witness to their journeys.

It’s wonderful that you enjoy helping others make the most of this genre. Of course a good example of that is Unrooted Childhoods, which is a book of memoirs by people who grew up in multiple countries.
Memoir is a wonderful genre, open to many forms, and helping writers find their voices, their unique expression, their subject, is a joy for me. There are strands in life that one thinks of as separate, and I have figured out a way to braid them together. There is so much self-discovery in the process—I can’t tell you how many times students have told me, “I had no intention of writing about that. And I’m so glad I did.”

Where can people find those workshops?
My regular memoir-writing workshops are offered through Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, outside Washington, DC. I’ve offered other types of reflective writing programs in various community and art centers in the area, and am open to offers elsewhere. I’m happy to share more detailed information upon request.

Thank you, Nina, for sharing the story of your creative life with readers at the Displaced Nation. So, any questions or comments for Nina? Be sure to leave them in the comments!

*All subheds are quotes from Nina’s essay for Brain, Child Magazine, “Leaving” (April 2014).

STAY TUNED for our next fab post.

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Thanksgiving: Shine, shine, shine, dear writers, however displaced

Today’s guest blogger, Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, is a cultural spelunker. With a husband from Ireland, a daughter from Vietnam, nearly five years as an expat in Shanghai, China, and an insatiable appetite for place, how could she not be? She’s also an author with an MFA degree in fiction writing, 18 years of experience as a writing instructor, a writerhead passionista, and the curator of #38Write, a monthly series of online writing workshops for place-passionate culture junkies around the world. Let’s listen up and hear why Kristin thinks Thanksgiving is a time for us displaced writers to shine!

— ML Awanohara

On Thursday, November 22, friends and families all over the United States (as well as oodles of displaced/replaced U.S.-ians around the world) will gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving. While this holiday can be traced back to the English Reformation and Henry VIII, it is now a secular holiday during which participants are expected to do just three simple things:

  1. eat turkey and pumpkin pie until we groan and bloat up like petrified puffer fish.
  2. endure our Great Aunt Pru, who smells like mothballs and passes out linty lozenges that look like they’ve been in the bottom of her purse since the Reformation.
  3. give thanks.

Writers of all ilk love this holiday. After all, it’s a day for us to shine! A day for us to show off by expressing our thanks far more eloquently than the neighbor who is slouched in front of his television in a tryptophan-induced haze.

We do, of course, have a lot to live up to:

“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for—annually, not oftener—if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians.” ~ Mark Twain

“There is one day that is ours…Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American.” ~ O. Henry [except, Mr. Henry forgot to add, those damn Canadians a bit to our north, who horn in on our gratefulness territory and dare to give thanks of their own, albeit on a different day]

“I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.” ~ Erma Bombeck

But no matter how splendid the thanks of those who came before us, this is a day on which writers can strut their best stuff!

So whether or not you’re American (U.S. American, that is), grab this opportunity to make a list of things for which you are thankful. Hurl yourself into the craft of thanks! Then, when your Thanksgiving host pauses just before cutting the first slice of turkey and says, “Would anyone like to share a thing or two for which you’re grateful?” you can whip out that slip of paper, clear your throat, and in your best writerly voice, make ’em weep in their cranberry sauce.

Here are a handful of mine:

1) Despite my great love for China, I am wildly thankful I will not be sitting face to face with the still-raw, almost-gobbling, dripping-blood, trying-to-limp-away turkey I once faced in Shanghai (ordered weeks in advance, mind you, from a fancy, well-respected, Western-y hotel and for which we paid a pretty-pretty RMB). All hail the year of mashed potatoes as the main dish! (We should have stuck with jiaozi.)

2) I am so, so, so grateful I am not living during the English Reformation and that I am not required to wear contraptions like this on my head:

Anne Boleyn

3) I am grateful that Maya Angelou called to read me a new poem. (Sorry, sorry, sorry! This is actually one of Oprah’s moments of thankfulness, not mine. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?)

4) I am thankful for my amazing family and friends from Ireland, Vietnam, Germany, India, China, the U.S., the U.K., and so many more places—all those who guide me, teach me, love me, and put up with me in my best and worst moments as a human being.

5) I am thankful and excited and inspired that writers around the world are flocking to my #38Write workshops and that my vision for contributing—and helping other writers contribute—to the global conversation of story is being realized. Whoop! Whoop!

6) I am grateful that there are writers all around the globe (like you!) who are driven to explore, write stories about the cultures and places in which they live, and connect.

Your turn! What are you thankful for?

CONNECT: If you’d like to learn more or if you’d like to register for one of Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s #38Write workshops, grab a cup of coffee and pop over to her Web site and blog WRITERHEAD. Registration for December’s #38Write workshop is now open. You can Tweet Kristin at @kbairokeeffe, friend her on Facebook, and/or check out the #38Write group boards on Pinterest.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, Part 2 of Zeynep Kilic’s search for love in her adopted country.

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Images: Kristin Bair O’Keeffe portrait; Anne Boleyn, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

THE DISPLACED Q: Expats, repats, what’s the most outlandish tweak you’ve made to your Thanksgiving menu?

Since my repatriation to America, Thanksgiving has become my very favorite holiday here. This is partly because of a tweak that I make to the menu, but we’ll get to that later.

I wasn’t always so thankful for Thanksgiving. I only celebrated this American holiday twice while living abroad for many years, first in England and then in Japan — and to be honest, I didn’t really miss it.

Both celebrations took place when I was pursuing graduate studies at a British university.

The first time was for my very first Thanksgiving away from my family. I joined several other American grad students in preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to serve in the dorm. Our guests were mostly other international students who were curious to experience an authentic version of this quintessentially American custom — as I recall, there were very few Brits.

At one point, a rather bitter argument erupted between Anna, a Harvard-educated woman who was pursuing a higher degree in feminist studies, and Andy, a Georgetown-educated man who was doing an M.A. in politics.

Andy didn’t like the fact that Anna was carving the turkey, proclaiming to the assembled guests:

It can’t be Thanksgiving if a WOMAN is carving the turkey.

I don’t really remember what happened after that — whether Andy insisted upon taking over, or Anna stormed out of the room. But it did cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings.

The food, though, was a close facsimile to the meals I’d enjoyed at home. And the arguing part? That was something I could relate to as well.

And there was snow, which we could see through the huge dorm windows, covering the panoramic Constable (literally) landscape below.

Thanksgiving-on-the-Hill

The only other time occurred a few years later, when an American friend came to live in North London on a teaching exchange with the Harrow School.

He, too, was spending his first Thanksgiving away from home, so decided to host a potluck Thanksgiving dinner in his living quarters.

Again, I think the food was good, but as I recall, the guests, most of whom were English, thought that potluck was a funny way to do a formal dinner. And the setting wasn’t exactly conducive to re-creating a New World feast. Walking from Harrow-on-the-Hill station, we passed by boys in the quaint Harrow uniform, including black ties (allegedly they are still in mourning for Queen Victoria!).

My Thankgiving-less years

After that rather harrowing (sorry, couldn’t resist) experience, I stopped doing Thanksgiving. I married a Brit and we invariably went to his family for Christmas dinner, which — probably not coincidentally — resembles the Thanksgiving meal enjoyed by the Pilgrims. Turkey is the most popular main, cranberry sauce and all. (No pumpkin pie, though!)

Even when we moved to Japan, where there were more Americans, I didn’t reinstate the custom. It seemed too much like hard work competing at the international grocery stores for vastly overpriced frozen turkeys (specially imported for the occasion) and cans of pumpkin.

What’s more — and I probably should have mentioned this earlier — I’ve never been especially keen on turkey. Once, when I was an early teen, I got food poisoning from an undercooked bird, a memory I’ve found hard to erase.

Something else I forgot to mention is that although I enjoy cooking, I’m not a roaster or a baker. I have never achieved the requisite culinary skills to produce a Thanksgiving dinner on my lonesome — even to this day, when I’m living in the U.S. again.

Nor did I especially enjoy the production such a big meal entails. If I’m going to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I’d prefer to be producing something a little less bland than a roasted turkey, such as a Madhur Jaffrey Indian spread.

New thought: Maybe going abroad gave me the chance to escape from Thanksgiving? I wonder…

Giving thanks for Thanksgiving…but for one tweak!

So it is strange, the inordinate fondness I now have for this late November holiday. I like it because, unlike Christmas, it’s secular, so you don’t have to hesitate in wishing someone a happy Thanksgiving. It’s also less commercial, consisting primarily of an elegant meal with family and friends (I’m good at tuning out football).

I even enjoy eating turkey more than I used to — especially the dark meat. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s the sides that American people sometimes tweak. But I like the sides. My absolute favorites are the stuffing and mashed potatoes, in that order.

All of that said, I do feel compelled to make one major tweak because of my hybrid background. Instead of turkey sandwiches the day after, I prefer chirashi-turkey-zushi!!!

Chirashi is Japanese for “scattered” — a scattered bowl of assorted fresh ingredients. Most likely you have tried chirashizushi: a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of sashimi (raw fish) and other garnishes. (See #2 in the photo.)

What my (second) husband, who is Japanese, and I like to do, on the day after Thanksgiving, is to substitute leftover turkey for the raw fish.

Chirashi-turkey-zushi is tasty, fast, and easy to make — particularly if you can get ahold of:

  • microwavable Japanese rice (use two or three packets for four people)
  • chirashi seasoning mix, containing five vegetables — typically, carrots, lotus, bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms — sushi vinegar, seasoning, and nori (seaweed).
  • Kizami nori (shredded seaweed), to use as a topping.

There are no hard and fast rules as long as you get the seasoning right. And in my (admittedly rather biased) view, turkey goes as well with that seasoning as raw fish does!

* * *

Okay, your turn to tell me: what’s your idiosyncratic contribution to America’s national feast? Or if you’re not American, what do you do to internationalize your native festive spreads this time of year? I’m all ears, and tastebuds…!

STAY TUNED for another Thanksgiving post, by guest blogger Kristin Bair O’Keeffe.

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