The most charitable explanation for the editorial cartoon that appeared for just a few hours on the website of the Indianapolis Star is that the artist took the easy route of mashing up a news headline with an upcoming holiday. Lack of thought is easier to accept than deliberate mean-spiritedness.
The cartoon shows a fed-up-with-it-all Dad interrupted in his attempt to serve a turkey when a trio of dark-skinned or dark-mustachioed people start climbing through the window of his dining room. “Thanks to the president’s immigration order,” he sighs to his alarmed family, “We’ll be having extra guests this Thanksgiving.”
After numerous complaints, some pointing out the irony of using a holiday associated with the Pilgrims (our first unauthorized immigrants) to stoke fears about newcomers, the Star pulled the cartoon, saying, “We encourage and support diverse opinion. But the depictions in this case were inappropriate; his point could have been expressed in other ways.”
The point of the cartoon, other than general xenophobia, is hard to determine. President Barack Obama’s executive action temporarily lifts the threat of deportation for up to half of the 12 million undocumented migrants already in the United States. Some of them may be responsible for getting that turkey to the plate in the editorial cartoon.
Besides its association with immigrants, Thanksgiving is a time of charity and of gratitude for America’s relatively high standard of living. In a feature called “26 Charts and Maps to Be Thankful For,” Vox’s Dylan Matthews notes, “Between 1960 and 2007, the share of disposable personal income spent on total food by Americans fell from 17.5 to 9.7 percent, and the share of income spent on food at home fell from 14.1 to 5.6 percent.”
Thanksgiving is now a time to splurge on all kinds of foods we rarely eat otherwise (seasonal sauces and jellies, bowls of every nut imaginable, exotic spices for the stuffing), but it wasn’t so long ago that the holiday was about the joy of having anything on the table. In an NPR photo essay called “When Thanksgiving Was Weird,” Linton Weeks notes that until the 1940s, it was a New York tradition for children to dress up as “ragamuffins” and beg for food and coins on Thanksgiving. The transformation of the holiday into a day for families to withdraw from the rest of the world is what’s weird.
According to the Pew Research Center, unauthorized immigrants make up 5.1 percent of the American workforce. That share is highest in Nevada (10.2 percent), which could be called the Short Cut State for its illusionary promise of making people rich not through hard work or playing by the rules, but through lucky spins at the casinos. Las Vegas, where President Obama visited the day after he announced his executive action, apparently depends a great deal on unauthorized immigrants to cater to Americans in search of a quick way to get ahead—or, in some cases, a hedonistic way to spend their holidays.
All these ironies make Thanksgiving week a particularly inappropriate time to nurse bitterness toward the millions of individuals and families in America who can, for now, continue to work and raise families without fear of deportation. Next year, immigration and border security will again be divisive political issues, but let’s abstain from ridicule and paranoia for the holiday.