Thanksgiving is coming soon; plan to include your new neighbors.

Soon Americans will crowd airports and roads, traveling in every direction to spend time with family members on Thanksgiving, cooking delicious food and catching up on stories and movies. This is one of my favorite holidays in the United States. I enjoy sharing the meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and, my favorite dessert, sweet potato soufflé. None of this food is familiar where I originally come from.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

There are more than 55,000 New Mainers in the state. Many of them are great cooks, and what makes neighbors love each other is sharing delicious food, discussing culture and traditions. I work closely with Maine immigrant communities and I get the opportunity to meet and dine with people from different backgrounds, experiencing their food and culture. Despite the language difference, we get to know each other, sharing stories and meals. No two New Mainers are the same.

How about starting an American-New Mainer Thanksgiving? Mainers this year should start sponsoring a newly arrived family for Thanksgiving dinner. This would be a great occasion to get to know one another. Get to know the hopes of these New Mainers, what they find most surprising about living here and what can be done to live and thrive together. I encourage Mainers who have lived here their whole lives to step out of their comfort zone and make the effort to integrate Thanksgiving by inviting people who may not speak English as fluently as they do.

When you invite them, it’s important to ask what they don’t eat. Some newly arrived Mainers won’t eat meat unless it is halal meat, which they might buy from their preferred local grocery stores. They could cook it at their house and bring the food to the host’s home.

I don’t see many New Mainers preparing for a Thanksgiving celebration this year. It will be an ordinary day for many of them, staying home and doing what they usually do. Sharing Thanksgiving meals will, for sure, bring so much joy. This can also be a good way to integrate both communities and help both our state and our country.

Since the murder of George Floyd in summer 2020 people have asked how Maine can do better to address issues such as racism, xenophobia and hate. There is not a short answer to this question, but Mainers have the advantage of addressing these issues by building a good relationship with newly arrived immigrants, many of whom have not heard of the word racism until they arrived here. Maine can show love and solidarity by sharing meals on this upcoming Thanksgiving and giving thanks for one another.

I have lived here now for seven Thanksgivings. On my first Thanksgiving, I observed and learned. I did not do much except watch and exercise patience as I took notes. On my second Thanksgiving, I knew what to do. I picked one side dish to make, the Somali mofa, a popular Somali flatbread. White corn flour is used to prepare this side dish, which is best served with stews or sometimes eaten in pieces with the Shaah, a sweet and spiced Somali chai.

On my third Thanksgiving, I learned to bake sweet potato soufflé. And someday when I return to my native country, it is one of the dishes I want to introduce. Mainers should be excited to integrate new foods and New Mainers into their Thanksgiving as well.

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