The turkey was served Haitian-style. The list of side dishes included diri djondjon — a mushroom-infused black rice — and the Caribbean version of salade russe, a red-hued mix of beets, potatoes and carrots.
With this menu as a backdrop, 200 newly arrived Haitian immigrants celebrated their first Thanksgiving in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood Tuesday evening. Dozens of volunteers served up the traditional meal, which was organized by the nonprofit SHUT UP Until You There.
“I feel proud to partake in my first Thanksgiving,” said Junior Amilca speaking through an interpreter. “I had always heard about Thanksgiving. And now I’m not hearing about it—I’m living it.”
Amilca, who came to Boston with his wife and 1-year-old son, said he and his family were grateful for their welcome to the area and for their new friends.
For the moment, he and the other guests are receiving temporary housing at a hotel in Stoughton. Event organizer Dejma Olivier said she wanted to give them a “special moment” with a traditional Haitian meal for their first Thanksgiving.
Haitians comprise the largest population of recent migrants arriving in Massachusetts, according to the advocacy group MIRA, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. The organization receives state funding to provide case management and legal services to new arrivals staying in emergency shelters.
Many small community-based organizations are doing “heroic amounts of work” for the migrants said Kate Froehlich, MIRA's program director of immigrant services. But Froehlich said unprecedented numbers of new arrivals has created a desperate need for shelter.
“The single greatest need right now is a safe place for everyone to sleep at night, a safe and warm place,” Froehlich said.
“I had always heard about Thanksgiving. And now, I’m not hearing about it—I’m living it.”Junior Amilca, Haitian immigrant
Gov. Maura Healey, responding to a spike in demand for shelter, instituted a cap earlier this month on how many families the state could house. Now, the state is working with local groups to provide temporary spaces for those on the wait list. Healey and other governors have repeatedly pressed federal officials for funding and work authorizations to meet the surging need of a swell in migrants coming to their states.
For now, the state has set up a makeshift shelter in the Massachusetts State Transportation building in Boston, but migrant advocates say they are scrambling for better options.
Chris Hoeh, a volunteer at the Thanksgiving dinner, said he was dedicated to helping Haitian arrivals transition into their new lives in Massachusetts.
“It’s been heartbreaking to know the trauma refugees have experienced, especially families with children,” Hoeh said. “I want them to know that they have friends outside the strong Haitian community who welcome them as new neighbors.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct a misspelling of Kate Froehlich's name.