Afghan refugees celebrate first Thanksgiving, ‘a new beginning’

Mayor Lightfoot, Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and others joined 34 refugees for a Thanksgiving meal Tuesday.

Safia Jamal, left, greets Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a dinner for Afghan refugees’ first Thanksgiving in America, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at Golden House Restaurant in Uptown. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Safia Jamal, left, greets Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a dinner for Afghan refugees’ first Thanksgiving in America, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at Golden House Restaurant in Uptown. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Posted by Clare Spaulding  on Nov 23, 2021, 8:44pm CST. Retrieved from chicago.suntimes.com

Safia Jamal fled Afghanistan in August as the Taliban took over the state.

She had to leave behind her family and friends, coming to Chicago alone.

A Thanksgiving dinner Tuesday brought tears for Jamal, 29 — the trauma of leaving her home, the suffering her family and friends, especially women and girls, are still enduring.

But it also brought “a new beginning, a new hope,” Jamal said.

Chicago leaders joined 34 Afghan refugees to share a Thanksgiving meal Tuesday in the back dining room of Golden House Restaurant & Pancake House, the oldest restaurant in Uptown owned by Mexican immigrant Hugo Espino. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia gathered to celebrate the refugees’ first Thanksgiving, hosted in partnership with the Zakat Foundation of America, a Chicago-based emergency relief organization.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia talks about what Thanksgiving means to him prior to a dinner for Afghan refugees’ first Thanksgiving in America, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at Golden House Restaurant in Uptown. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia talks about what Thanksgiving means to him prior to a dinner for Afghan refugees’ first Thanksgiving in America, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at Golden House Restaurant in Uptown. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

For Garcia, Tuesday was a “personal moment” that brought him back to 1965, when he came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was nine years old. He wanted to make sure the refugees knew they were coming to a “welcoming state,” Garcia said.

Chicago’s history as a “sanctuary city” for immigrants and refugees dates back to 1985, when then-Mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order prohibiting city employees from enforcing federal immigration laws. But that designation means nothing, Lightfoot said, if the city doesn’t “show how we are welcoming.”

“This is one of those seminal moments where I believe that we are truly giving evidence and faith and fidelity to Harold Washington’s vision about being a welcoming city,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot spoke about how she was “haunted” in August by news of what was happening to people in Afghanistan, especially women and girls. The Taliban vowed to respect women when it took control of Afghanistan’s government after the U.S. military withdrew from the country, ending “America’s longest war.”

Dinnerware and decorations set up for Afghan refugees’ first Thanksgiving in America, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at Golden House Restaurant. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Dinnerware and decorations set up for Afghan refugees’ first Thanksgiving in America, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at Golden House Restaurant. Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The mayor’s words “touched” Jamal, recognizing that “I am one of those ladies, girls, that went through all of those things.” But when she thinks of Afghanistan and what it was like before, Jamal said it gives her joy to be where she is, working as a case manager in Chicago.

“I don’t have a specific thing like (Thanksgiving) in Afghanistan, but normally, people are thankful for each other,” Jamal said. “That’s a good culture. I really appreciate it.”