Personal Reflections | Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

Personal Reflections

November 20, 2019

Dear IMSA Family,

As we prepare to gather around the table next week to celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to thank you for taking the time to read these reflections and for your commitment and support of IMSA.  I also want to ask you to take time to reflect on the many blessings you have, and to encourage you to be thankful.

Growing up in a poor family with my grandparents in Puerto Rico, I do not have any memories of Thanksgiving celebrations. This is not to say that people in Puerto Rico do not celebrate it, it’s just that I don’t remember having these celebrations in my family.  As I got older and returned to Puerto Rico, I found that my family enjoys “El Dia de Accion de Gracias” (Thanksgiving) with food traditionally served during the Christmas holiday, including pernil, pasteles, arroz con gandules, y ahora, pavo (pork, Puerto Rican tamales, rice with pigeon peas, and now turkey).

From my first marriage, I have three children, two boys, and a girl who are now 33, 31, and 30 with an 8-year old grandson. As they were growing up, I wanted to create traditions none more important to me than the celebration of Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving because it is not so commercialized and one can still have a focus on those in need via community dinners, etc.  My in-laws always had a guest at their Thanksgiving table.  I also had guests at mine.  Our current tradition, now that I’m in my second marriage, is to serve lunch at the local community dinner, or shelter, then join the family for a family dinner to which we still invite strangers or friends without family to join our table.

Two stories about Thanksgiving before I conclude.  My first Thanksgiving dinner with the family, who eventually became my in-laws, was more than a little odd.  My in-laws (now deceased) were Italian immigrants from the north of Italy–Belluno and Milano.  They first served antipasto, which I ate, followed by lasagna–one of the best lasagnas I had ever eaten.  I had a piece and they encouraged me to have more, so I had one, maybe two more pieces.  I thought dinner was over when they started to clear the table from the lasagna.  And then, they brought out the turkey, lamb, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberries, and the green bean casserole.  I couldn’t believe it.  I could hardly have any food since I was so full!  After several hours of eating and drinking, Paisano wine also flowed freely, they brought out three types of desserts followed by bread and cheese.  Whew!  I eventually learned my lesson.

Another story I want to share is that about the same time as my family was growing, I was also growing in my professional life, including developing and honing my beliefs about equity and social justice.  I remember one year making a big deal about not celebrating Columbus Day given that Columbus didn’t discover America, but rather he got lost and the Native Indians from, for example, Puerto Rico, the Arawaks, found him on their beach.  I thought it important to tell the true story of Columbus.  After Columbus Day, nearly six weeks later, we were at another “celebration,” Thanksgiving.  But, have you considered the origins of Thanksgiving?  You’re free to research it, but the tragedy of it all has to do with the Mayflower landing on Cape Cod and the subsequent massacre of the Native People.  Yet, how do we reconcile these things?  I don’t have the answers, only that as for me and my family, we choose to celebrate family, gratefulness, and service.

Because of my experiences with Thanksgiving from growing up in my family up to the present moment, I am always curious about how others celebrate Thanksgiving and what meaning they give to this holiday.  When I came to the Chicago area, I learned that many of my new friends had mac and cheese for Thanksgiving.  One of my favorite questions during Thanksgiving time is, how do you celebrate Thanksgiving and what do you serve at your table?

All this writing about food is getting me hungry!

So, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?  Health? Family?  Friends? IMSA? Your teachers? Your students? Your job?  Your boss?  Your employees?  Your colleagues?  Being grateful is an antidote to many things, be of good cheer and be thankful.  If you are struggling with ideas, here’s one of the first websites that came up when I did a simple search of “things to be thankful for.”  The article is “215 Things to Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving 2019.”

I took the time to read through all 215 things. I am so grateful!  Take a look and join me in gratitude!


José M. Torres, Ph.D.


P.S. Here’s a list of good news that we shared with our Board of Trustees at their November 20, 2019 meeting. And, here are some of my favorites on the list of 215: 8, 11, 26, 32, 39, 58, 64, 77, 79, 82, 98, 99, 121, 123, 126,142, 168, 181, 191, 204, and 208.  What are your favorites?