Refugees Celebrate Their First Thanksgiving in Oakland
Do you remember your first Thanksgiving? For many newly arrived refugees, their first one just took place, at what’s become an annual pre-Thanksgiving tradition in Oakland.
Hundreds of refugees, volunteers and staff with the International Rescue Committee of Northern California packed into the Lake Merritt Methodist Church for a American-grade feast a week before Thanksgiving.
Sang Boo had heard about Thanksgiving in her Christian church back in Myanmar, before moving to the US in September. But now the stories become more personal.
“We also moved to America, so I think we are like Pilgrims." Said Boo. "(This is a) new land for us.”
There’s been a recent influx of refugees from Southeast Asia, like Boo, and fewer Africans of late, according to IRC development manager Audra Brown. She says one of the biggest challenges is providing new arrivals with health care, especially mental health. Another obstacle is the lack of affordable housing in the Bay Area.
"Housing is not affordable in California," says Brown. "Last year, (we) closed our office in San Francisco because we were not putting any more refugees in the city, but now even here in Oakland the rent is still rising. “
But the feast is strictly a celebration. The menu’s full of donations from local businesses, including curries, pizza, and Ethiopian food. And of course, dinner wouldn’t be complete without the bird.
“Turkeys are awesome!...It's delicious too." said Meg Karki, who came to the US from Bhutan in June 2011. Karki never heard of Thanksgiving before he came to the US. It's his second time at IRC's Thanksgiving dinner, which is now in its 14th year.
IRC serves over 600 refugees every year. But even with all these hungry Thanksgiving newcomers, there's a good chance there will be some leftovers.