Parents at Odds Over Thanksgiving Costumes

Filed under: Holidays

indian and pilgrim costumesKindergartners in Claremont, California have long had a tradition of dressing up in costumes and visiting kindergartners at another school for a Thanksgiving feast. This year, Condit Elementary students were to dress as Pilgrims to host Mountainview Elementary students, who were to dress as Native Americans. However, the decades-long tradition has come to a screeching halt after one parent complained that it was demeaning.

Michelle Raheja, the mother of a Condit student and the daughter of a Seneca, wrote a letter to the school expressing her outrage over the planned festivities. "I'm sure you can appreciate the inappropriateness of asking children to dress up like slaves (and kind slave masters), or Jews (and friendly Nazis), or members of any other racial minority group who has struggled in our nation's history," she wrote.

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Raheja isn't just a concerned parent, she's also an English professor at UC Riverside specializing in Native American literature. "There is nothing to be served by dressing up as a racist stereotype," she said.

Much to the dismay of some other parents, the school bowed to the pressure and canceled the costume-wearing aspect of the celebration.

Condit first-grader parent Kathleen Lucas, also of Native American descent, says her son still wears the vest and feathered headband he sported last year. "My son was so proud," she said. "In his eyes, he thinks that's what it looks like to be Indian."

While at least one parent accuses Raheja of "using those children as a political platform for herself and her ideas," others hope the dispute can open of a dialog about Thanksgiving and its true meaning. "Its always a good thing to think about, critically, how we teach kids, even from very young ages, the message we want them to learn, and the respect for the diversity of the American experiences," said parent Jennifer Tilton, an assistant professor of race and ethnic studies at the University of Redlands.

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