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Arlington immigrants celebrate first Thanksgiving

Organizers from the Ethiopian Community Development Council said it was a time to learn about different cultures and the common goal of rebuilding their lives.

ARLINGTON, Va. — While you may be putting the finishing touches on your Turkey Day menu, several dozen newcomers to the country were treated to an early Thanksgiving in Arlington. In fact, Sunday’s feast for recent refugees was their first Thanksgiving ever. 

Organizers from the Ethiopian Community Development Council of Arlington said it was not only about introducing them to this uniquely American holiday, but it was time to learn about different cultures and their common goal of rebuilding their lives. 

As Alina Stovbun stood on stage singing the classic American jazz song “Summertime” to a room full of refugees, she recalled her own journey to America this past summer when she fled the war in Ukraine.  

“It was not easy. I cried a lot," said Stovbun. “When you arrive to America, you have feelings that you are nothing; you are alone. But it’s not true, we’re all here to support each other.” 

That’s what the first Thanksgiving event was all about. ECDC has been hosting Thanksgiving celebrations for 10 years. This was the first in-person gathering since the pandemic.

“They turned out in big numbers to celebrate this American holiday because they’re on their way to becoming American themselves,” said Bob Elston who serves as housing coordinator with ECDC and who was among the team who picked up the refugees for the first time at Dulles Airport.

“Everybody cooked and brought with them their traditional food from home and so it’s a mix of culture and religion,” added Sarah Zullo Director of the Afghan Community Center of Washington, DC Metro. “One of the things we found when people get together and enjoy food, they quickly realize they have more in common than differences.”

Most of the refugees invited to the international feast have been in this country for less than a year. Some were from El Salvador, others were from Afghanistan. They all carried the courage and conviction it takes to rebuild their lives, often leaving family and good jobs back home. 

Stubvin left a high-level development position for babysitting and teaching jobs in America, but she is reinventing herself with this new-found freedom.

“I’m a teacher, I’m a musician I can do everything,” she said,
and America is a great opportunity to find out who you are.”

So, as she sang for the crowd of newcomers, she sang songs of encouragement and gratitude for second chances. 

“Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday because you realize how rich you are without money,” said Subvin.


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