Young pupil Moses eats a Thanksgiving dinner.
Moses tucks into his Thanksgiving meal.

Last Thursday at the Mission Education Center at 30th and Noe St., 11-year-old Javiel tried turkey for the first time. He was not disappointed.

“I like it a lot,” he grinned. “I’ll take another plate.”

For Javiel and his 55 fellow pupils, this year will mark their first-ever Thanksgiving. The Center is an elementary school for recent arrivals to the United States and, for the past 40 years, they have been introducing kids to our most American of holidays with panache.

This year was no exception. The day was complete with fall decorations, a show put on by the students and, of course, vast quantities of turkey.

Some of the school’s youngest members perform a dance on stage.

“I’m just so excited,” said Principal Carla Llewelyn-Vasquez. Celebrations were cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, she said, so she was thrilled to be back in action.

“It’s a unique American holiday,” she said. “We teach the kids about the history of Thanksgiving and what happened to our indigenous people, and we also have a big focus on gratitude and friendship.”

The kids’ show featured dances, a recorder recital and singing in Spanish.

Pupils celebrated Thanksgiving and showed off their skills to their fellow classmates.

The meals, which were provided by the Latino Task Force, were traditional Thanksgiving fare with a Latin twist: turkey, black beans, rice and salsa.

Each meal was freshly prepared and arrived piping hot.
Staff distribute a treasure trove of turkey dinners.

The staff managed to keep a party atmosphere going even with Covid-19 restrictions. While they were eating, Javiel treated his fellow students to a solo performance on his recorder.

“My favorite parts of Thanksgiving are the food and being able to sing,” first-grader Ashley said in Spanish.

Ashley’s father and brother came to the United States from Honduras before the rest of the family. They were all reunited last year. She said that she used to sing a song called “Nice Home Papa” for her brother while he was away, because she missed him.

She has kept up her singing, and performed with classmates during the show.

Ashley and her friend Jencarlos enjoying their first Thanksgiving meal (the turkey was their favorite part).

The school is crucial for providing a “soft landing” to kids who do not speak English or know much about U.S. culture, said Llewelyn-Vasquez. She explained that connecting at events like this was especially important for kids without many other social outlets.

Next year, the school hopes to invite parents back to enjoy the celebrations and watch their children perform. But in the meantime, Llewelyn-Vasquez was delighted to see her pupils together and having a good time.

“They’re the most adorable kids in all of San Francisco,” she said. “Hands down.”

The hall was decorated with hand-made decorative placemats and pine cone turkeys.

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Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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