Every morning when I come to work and open the doors to the Center for New Americans it’s like stepping into another world, or better into many other worlds. There is constant chatter in many different languages, people coming, people going, people waiting, children laughing and children crying. All of them will be experiencing an American holiday next week – Thanksgiving – some of them for the very first time. When I moved to this country many years ago I didn’t know anything about Thanksgiving, except that this was the day when the American people gave thanks. So I decided to find out what my clients, co-workers and friends were thankful for, and how they say it in their languages. It was a lot of fun to have my students teach me the words for ‘thank you’ and my attempts at pronouncing them were met with much laughter and encouragement. Let me share with you what I learned, but please excuse the spelling errors of which I am sure there are many. Thank you means thank you, no matter how you say it
Danke – Ci lɔcdä tɛɛth – Aftata kite – Dyakuyu – Galatoma – Shukran –Tinate –Azuo –
Tebui– Ameseginalehu –Dhanyebad – Yekenyeley – Spasiba –Xiexie –Dankie –
Gracias – Asante – Merci – Grazie – Hvala ti – Dank je – Mahadsanid – Yin ca leec
And what exactly is everyone thankful for? They are appreciative of the daily things – their home and their family and their children, being in good health, having a job and stability in their lives, never going hungry again. Many clients are thankful for their teachers and all the assistance they get from our staff. One Eastern European woman used her on-line dictionary so she could tell me what she is so thankful for: Life. She is just so happy that her family is here, together and alive. I got teary eyed when she was talking. Her gratitude is shared by many who are thankful for God saving their lives and bringing them to America where He is taking good care of them. A few years ago, an African woman explained to me that yes, we pray several times a day and go to church often. But back in Africa, we experienced such terrible suffering every day that we needed something to hold on to, to give us hope and strength to get out of there alive.
One East African man explained it from a historical perspective. He was thankful that America is such a peaceful and welcoming nation. Many hundred years ago, the Native Americans welcomed the Pilgrims who were persecuted and feared for their lives in their home countries. Hundreds of years later, America is still welcoming those who have fear in their eyes but hope in their hearts. But aren’t you also thankful for your home and your job, I asked. Oh yes, he said, but that couldn’t be if America wouldn’t still open her doors and welcome us.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Written by Silke Hansen, ESL Instructor