As Thanksgiving approaches, the future remains uncertain for all Americans — especially new American citizens.

If you were born in America, your first Thanksgiving was probably spent as a bewildered baby, being spoon-fed mashed potatoes by giant people whom you would later come to recognize as your family members. As an adult, the only thing that's really different is who's holding the spoon.

Plus whatever this is. Photo by Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images.


For many immigrants who've recently become U.S. citizens, however, this Thanksgiving won't be like any other. It's supposed to be a holiday where you reflect on what you're thankful for, but after a divisive election filled with anti-immigrant rhetoric, finding things to be thankful for can be challenging.

I spoke to five new American citizens about what's on their minds this Thanksgiving and what they're thankful for. Their answers are inspiring, difficult, and incredibly important to hear. For the most part, though, they're doing what the rest of us will be doing on Thanksgiving — just with more anxiety.

Santiago Svidler, an Argentinian immigrant who became a citizen in 2014, is openly frustrated about the state of the country but is looking forward to being with his family on Thanksgiving.

A politically conscious journalism major at California State University, Northridge, Svidler knows that the election and all of its implications will surely be a topic of conversation around the dinner table.

"It’s been on everyone’s mind," Svidler says. "I’m a gay, Jewish, Latino man. My brother is a gay, Jewish, Latino man also. Even though we're American citizens, it still concerns us. ... Our rights as immigrants, our family's rights, LGBT rights ... this affects all of us."

With a family so diverse, you bet their Thanksgiving table reflects that. Aside from the typical turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, "we also accommodate all of our family members’ dietary needs. So there’s vegan for those who are vegan; there’s vegetarian options [too]," Svidler says.

Photo courtesy of Santiago Svidler.

As for where he finds hope and things to be grateful for in the wake of the election, Svidler admitted it's hard. "This is like a grieving stage," he says. But regardless of what the president-elect tries to do, "we're going to stand up and fight for our rights. Because this is an America that is for everyone, not just those at the top who are white, male, heterosexual."

He recently attended a protest in Los Angeles that reminded him of how much he appreciates the ability to speak his mind. "Everyone had different signs that they made affiliated with what their cause is," Svidler explains. "It went from abortion rights to immigration to student debt. It was a huge variety, and it was great to see this because it feels as if we’re being heard."

Luisana DeGolyer has lived in America for decades after moving here with her family from Venezuela in the '80s, but this will be her first Thanksgiving as a U.S. citizen.

"When my dad came here, he didn’t speak English. He didn’t have any money," DeGolyer explains over the phone. Her parents worked really hard to land on their feet in America. After moving from job to job, her father started his own business, which DeGolyer says is now worth millions of dollars and employs many family members, herself included.

Photo courtesy of Luisana DeGolyer.

"I live and breathe the family business, so I put a lot of things on the back burner," she says of her decision not to pursue her citizenship until recently. "You put things off because you feel safe. You think 'I was raised here, I’m not going to go anywhere.'" She says her sister is currently pursuing her own U.S. citizenship.

With the uncertainty of the election looming and not knowing who was going to be the next president, "I thought, 'I better do it,' and I’m glad I did," DeGolyer says.

Like DeGolyer, a lot of other immigrants decided 2016 was a good year to make their U.S. citizenships official.

There's been a surge in people applying for citizenship in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, according to the Los Angeles Times. Anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of the election and deep uncertainty about their future has pushed hundreds of thousands of immigrants to go through the process of becoming citizens.

A naturalization ceremony in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

After living in America for 20 years, Nicola Ward, an immigrant from Scotland, is looking forward to celebrating her first "official" Thanksgiving.

The biggest factor that motivated her to pursue her U.S. citizenship was her daughter.

When you're not a citizen during an election year, Ward says, you look at what could potentially happen to you based on the candidates. Given Donald Trump's anti-immigrant platform, her decision to become a citizen was mostly about "peace of mind" for herself and her daughter.

Nicola Ward and her daughter. Photo courtesy of Nicola Ward.

"If something were to happen, I would potentially go back to Scotland and she would be here with her dad," Ward explains. "That’s always a huge fear that’s in the back of anybody's mind who’s not a U.S. citizen: What happens to my child?"

Ward's newfound peace of mind means she can spend a nice relaxing Thanksgiving with her (very excited) daughter. "She's all about the holidays," Ward says.

While she's thankful for her new citizenship status, Ward says she's most thankful for the opportunity it gave her to cast a vote in the election. "One of my biggest milestones was to say that I actually voted. And even though people say that their vote doesn't count, it did to me," Ward says.

For Alyona Koneva, who finally got her citizenship after moving to the U.S. from Russia 11 years ago, Thanksgiving dinner will be a quiet date with her husband, combining traditions from both of their cultures.

Koneva is in grad school getting her master's in clinical psychology and works as a therapist in a hospital where she talks to a lot of immigrants from low-income communities. Being away from her family has been tough, but at least she has her husband close by.

"He’s Hispanic," Koneva says. "They also have all kinds of different twists on Thanksgiving. So we’ll probably do tamales, we’ll do ham, and we'll do borscht."

Photo courtesy of Alyona Koneva.

"I’m happy that now being an American citizen, I have these rights that I didn’t have" in Russia, Koneva says.

The election is weighing heavily on Koneva's mind, especially when she thinks of her patients. "My heart hurts for my patients and also my fellow coworkers and peers because I feel like [the election is] really going to affect the mental health field." She says there's already a huge need for resources there.

"Just seeing how distraught my patients are and how scared they are, it's pretty heartbreaking," Kovena says, though she's trying to keep an open mind that everything will work out. "I love being able to help people, especially those in need."

Ronni Prakoth, whose mother immigrated from Suriname and whose father immigrated from India, is going all-out for Thanksgiving at her sister's house.

"I think [my sister] wants me to make green bean casserole, but nobody ever eats it!" Prakoth says.

Photo courtesy of Ronni Prakoth.

Despite cultural adjustments like growing up on pizza seasoned with Indian spices, Prakoth says she loves the United States and has a deep appreciation for the immigrant experience.

"I love living in America," Prakoth says. "I know in my heart that this is the only country that I could live in. This is the culture that I’ve become accustomed to. Even at times when we take it for granted, this is my home."

Whatever thoughts you have about Thanksgiving — that it's the best holiday ever or that it's an awkward, gluttonous ode to genocidal colonialism — we can all take some time to remember our blessings.

Despite the fear and uncertainty weighing on their minds, every single one of these new American citizens easily listed things they were thankful for.

For DeGolyer, it's her children, her health, and her husband's release from prison. For Ward, it's her family and the opportunity to vote in an American election for the first time. Koneva is thankful that whatever the political situation is here, it's not as bad as it is in her native Russia. And Svidler is thankful for his recently born niece.

Finding things to be thankful for when you're scared and facing four years of an unstable, unpredictable presidential administration is no small feat. But just because there are things to be thankful for in a tumultuous present doesn't mean that we should stop working to make our country a better, safer place for everyone to live in regardless of what they look like or what kind of paperwork they have.

So what does it feel like to be a new American citizen at Thanksgiving this year? There isn't one answer. It feels nerve-wracking, frustrating, and confusing. They're looking for answers, solutions, and peace of mind. They're grateful to be with their families and for the ability to exercise their rights. They're feeling cautiously optimistic and hopeful, and they're proud of their country.

On Thanksgiving, they'll do what we all do: They'll keep moving forward, and they'll keep eating turkey.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Ronny Tertnes' "liquid sculptures" are otherworldly.

Human beings have sculpted artwork out of all kinds of materials throughout history, from clay to concrete to bronze. Some sculpt with water in the form of ice, but what if you could create sculptures with small drops of liquid?

Norwegian artist Ronny Tertnes does just that. His "liquid sculptures" look like something from another planet or another dimension, while at the same time are entirely recognizable as water droplets.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

The scarf, a simple accessory that some find an essential fashion piece. Both fashionable and function with the warmth they provide, scarves can be a valuable gift for any occasion or person. Here, we've selected our best selling scarves from our store. At Upworthy Market, when you purchase a product, you directly support the artisans who craft their own products, so with every purchase, you're doing good. These scarves are not only unique, but they are hand-made by local artisans and all under $30.

1. Fair Trade Woven Dark Gray Alpaca Blend Scarf

Celinda Jaco selects a cozy blend of Andean alpaca for this handsome men's scarf. Classic in style, it features fine stripes of white and black woven through the dark grey textile. Hand-tied fringe completes a distinguished design.

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There's a reason they're so darn cute.

For parents, handling a 2-year-old's 2-year-oldness can be a challenge. You can't rationalize with them. You know they're not being little toddler terrors on purpose. You know that they're just learning and that it's a stage and a phase that won't last forever, but when you're in it? Phew.

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