This is the annual Thanksgiving weekend in America beginning Thursday. Caribbean people and Guyanese in Guyana and in America have much to be thankful – the US opened the doors to Guyanese during the period of the apartheid like dictatorship (1966 to 1992) and for restoring democracy to Guyana. From 1966 to 1992, Guyanese were denied the right to choose their government; the Black PNC dictatorship withdrew the suffrage from the nation opting instead to vote for them en masse in fraudulent elections.Those who objected were brutalized and or killed. During the mid-1970s and throughout the 1980s and thru 1992, Guyanese suffered from starvation because of banning of basic food imports and declining productivity; farmers were discouraged from production resulting in shortages of foods. This triggered a massive wave of migration to Canada, USA, and UK in addition to neighboring countries (Venezuela, Surinam, Brazil) and throughout the Caribbean.
While exact numbers are not known, hundreds of thousands of Guyanese came to America legally and illegally (using passports of others and backtrack -- through the Canadian and Mexican borders) during the late 1970s and 1980s and even during the first half of 1990s. It was estimated that some 10K migrated (permanently) to America legally from 1978 to 2017 and thousands more illegally during that period. There were smaller numbers migrating to America during the 1960s to 1978 as students, visitors, workers (in farms, hospitals, adult care, child care, etc.) . That would be approximately some 500K legal migrants (residents) to the USA alone plus tens of thousands more who came on visitors visas, student visas, employment visas, and backtrack. The official US census of 1980 reported some 48K Guyanese in America. Guyanese are not known to report their existence to the government for various fears (illegal, working off the books, etc.). Thus many would not have filed census documents. The 1980 official census is probably undereported by as much as 50%. The US Embassy reported that some 100K visitors’ visas were issued over the last three years (2014-14). Taking everything into consideration, the numbers of Guyanese in America and their US born children and grandchildren could easily exceed the numbers (750K) of Guyanese currently in Guyana.
Like other migrant communities, Guyanese and other Caribbean people are observing the traditional Thanksgiving Day holiday with family reunions, church service, charitable offerings, travel, and banquets. There are more people of Guyanese ancestry in the US than in Guyana. Guyanese Americans are counting their blessings giving thanks to America for welcoming them since the 1960s that led to a much better quality of life than in their home country. They give thanks by donating to favorite American charities and “feeding” the poorer sections of society – giving to organizations that help the less fortunate. And as they do with all other festivals they celebrate in America, they do so in their own unique way with their traditional cuisine and drinks. Guyanese host parties at catering halls and cultural variety concerts.
America has been kind and receptive to immigrants like Guyanese enabling their rapid rise in lifestyle. Many even work at two jobs and pursue higher education. Some experience problems. But on the whole, Guyanese and other Caribbean people are for the most part success stories with one of the highest income groups in the U.S contributing a lot more in taxes than in the benefits they receive. Indo-Guyanese, in particular, join Indian Americans as the highest family average income earner of almost $70K per annum. Other American minority ethnic groups average half of that amount. Indo-Guyanese acquire a home in three to four years while minority other groups take four times that period to purchase a house. Many Guyanese and other Caribbean people have become successful entrepreneurs in a very short time after arrival. And many have joined the ranks of professionals (in medicine, law, engineering, and computer technology) with some of the highest salaries in the nation.
Guyanese, as indeed most Americans, view Thanksgiving as an occasion for family reunion and dinners. Relatives normally take turn hosting dinner over the four days from Thursday to Sunday. Dinner normally includes the traditional turkey. Guyanese supplement the menu with traditional dishes including varied curries, dhal puri, pachounie, phulourie, bara, fried rice, chowmein, and fried channa as snacks and their favorite drinks -- mauby and sorrel for the children and rum for the adults. For desert, there is Black cake, pumkin pie, sweet potato pie. Indo-Guyanese throw in rasmalai, gulab jamoon, etc.
Giving is part of the Guyanese culture. They use the Thanksgiving occasion to give generously to the charities of their choice, including the Red Cross and the American Cancer Institute in addition to their local mandir, masjid and church. Some bake turkeys and cakes that are donated to homeless shelters in minority neighborhoods. They also donate food and assist in shelters serving meals. Their assistance helps to ease social problems such as hunger, poverty and homelessness in the New York City.
By observing the festival, Guyanese Americans are participating in a mainstream American celebration in the same manner that they celebrate their own traditional festivals such as Phagwah, Deepavalli, Eid, Qurbani, Shivratri, Youman Nabi, Christmas, etc. They want to give thanks for the progress they have made in America, the land that has given them the opportunity to realize their dreams. They are contributing in making America a better place to live and sharing their wealth and giving back to the society to which they owe their success. They are very thankful for their well-being in America.