5 immigrants share what their first Thanksgiving as U.S. citizens means to them.

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.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
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It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.

Anger at robocalls is a thing.

An anonymous Twitter user with the handle BusinessmanLego is getting a lot of love for pointing out a sad fact of American life: The phone call has been nearly killed by scammers.

We can all remember a time when getting a phone call from a number you didn't know would be exciting. A long-lost friend could be getting in touch. It could be a new opportunity. You may have won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.

But now, a call from an unknown number is most likely from a scammer or an autodialer. They're distracting, annoying and feel like harassment. The fact that they've become so common seems like another example of how so many of our institutions have stopped working in the best interests of the public and have kowtowed to special interests.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!