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From Long Island Wins: November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving: A Tradition of Welcoming

As we all learned in elementary school, the first Thanksgiving holiday set the tone for centuries to come. During the initial winter that the Pilgrims spent in Plymouth, Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag tribe, donated food stores to the settlers. In turn, the Pilgrims invited members of the tribe to a three-day feast after their first harvest in 1621.

So along with pumpkin pie and the Macy’s Day parade, when this time of year comes around, I can’t help but also think about the holiday’s origins and what it means for us today.

From the start, Thanksgiving was imbued with a message of welcoming. First, Massasoit welcoming the Pilgrims, who were strangers to the Americas and threatened with starvation, and later, the Pilgrims receiving the tribe at a harvest festival, an event that would eventually become a national holiday.

Thanksgiving speaks to the heart of our American identity: We are a nation built around welcoming communities, and we pride ourselves on that.

With this tradition of acceptance in mind, my organization, Long Island Wins, has initiated a new campaign called Welcoming Long Island – an effort to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and native-born Long Islanders.

Welcoming Long Island is part of Welcoming America, a national, grassroots-driven collaborative already active in 13 states. Just as a seed needs fertile soil to grow, we believe that receptive communities are needed for immigrants to thrive and contribute to the Long Island’s economy and culture. On Long Island, our welcoming campaign will focus on improving the soil, using education and a dialogue to ensure that new immigrants will be able to fully contribute to our communities.

Launched in 2010, Welcoming Long Island has already begun organizing in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, reaching out to people of goodwill – native and newcomer, conservative and progressive – who are interested in working to promote a climate of acceptance in their towns and villages. We call these groups “welcoming committees.”

The ultimate goal of Welcoming Long Island is to help build a climate, community by community, in which immigrants are more likely to integrate into the social fabric of their adopted hometowns. Welcoming committees are integral to the campaign’s success.

Margarita Espada, an educator, artist, and organizer with more than a decade of experience working toward social change on Long Island, is Long Island Wins’ newest organizer for Welcoming Long Island. If you are interested in organizing or joining a welcoming committee you can contact Margarita Espada at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . It’d be much in the spirit of this holiday season, and we’d be, well, Thankful.

Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the campaign director of Long Island Wins, a campaign promoting policy solutions to local immigration issues. Visit their website at