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Refugees in Colorado celebrate Thanksgiving with a focus on decolonization

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AURORA, Colo. Mulugeta Halie says his English gets better every day. 

“I’m from Ethiopia. I moved here last year, but I feel like this country is now my home country,” he said.

Part of making the United States his home country is observing a very American holiday. “This is the first time that I’m celebrating Thanksgiving,” Halie exclaimed with a smile.

Haile attended the 17th annual Refugee Thanksgiving Dinner at the Summit Events Center ballroom in Aurora on the evening of Nov. 20.

The event is sponsored by various nonprofits around the Denver-metro area including the African Community Center of Denver, an organization that helps refugees from around the world settle in the United States. 

Newcomers celebrate Thanksgiving Day

Refugee families from all over the world celebrate life, family and friendship

Kate Weatherbee was one of the organizers. “It’s really an opportunity to bring new comers in this area into a great American tradition of gratitude and feasting. There are few times in American culture when you can come together around a celebration that’s not religiously based, and Thanksgiving is a great opportunity,” she added. 

The atmosphere at the event was like a very large family holiday. “We have probably more than 300 families or 900 people here at the Summit Events Center,” Weatherbee said with a laugh.

The event was a giant multicultural community dinner that served refugees from Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Burma, Syria and various countries in South and Central America. Families shared tables and ate while children played and danced to music pumped in through the ballroom speakers. 

“I’m excited to share my experiences and communicate with different refugees from different countries and to share information and knowledge, and so many things,” said Haile. 

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Weatherbee emphasized to Rocky Mountain PBS that the idea is to move away from the inaccurate historical representations of Thanksgiving and toward the ideals of inclusivity and community. 

“It’s very rewarding and also bittersweet because we have to recognize that while we frame this event as one of gratitude and welcoming, that’s not what Thanksgiving was historically,” Weatherbee explained. “We very much recognize that this country was founded through colonialism and oppression, and we want to make it clear that this isn’t a celebration of colonization and oppression. We are reclaiming this holiday in order to show welcoming and support for newcomers.”

Haile said he appreciates the support and that he loves living in his new country. “I like the U.S. because it is the freedom country. You have the right to speak, you have the right to work, you have a right to all things. That’s why I like the United States.”

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