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They Count Blessings of Health, Wealth, Love, Freedom

November 27, 1987|DIANNE KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

Joe Phan is thankful that he and his family made it safely out of Vietnam. Manuel Castro is thankful for having a job in the land of opportunity. And Jerry Lester is thankful for great weather and his newly purchased 42-foot yacht.

Whose idea was Thanksgiving, anyway? Well, Armond Goetter wasn't quite sure, but he remembered that in the 1930s, when he was a child, he and his family ate turkey on that day.

"But I don't know if before I was born, (Americans) had Thanksgiving," Goetter, a cement mason, said Thursday as he swept dry leaves from the sidewalk in front of his home in Santa Ana. "When I was growing up, we had all the holidays--Christmas, Thanksgiving. I was lucky. Everything was good, and now I'm trying to do the same for my family."

Learned From Children

Joe Phan knows all about Thanksgiving, an American tradition begun when the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony shared a bountiful meal with their Indian neighbors in 1621. Phan's children told him about it. From their American schoolteachers, they learned about the settlers who left England to seek religious freedom in what is now the United States.

To Phan, it's a great holiday, one that he relishes. He, his wife and four children would be dining on turkey on this Thanksgiving in this, the fourth year of the rest of their lives, their lives in America.

"We thank the Lord because he gave us many blessings," said Phan, who lives in Costa Mesa, as he filled a jug with purified water at a supermarket. "Most of all we thank the Lord to have the opportunity to come here."

At the Taqueria Guadalajara in the heart of the Latin district in Santa Ana, Manuel Castro, 25, was sharing some tacos de bistec with his wife, Carmen, 24, and sons David, 6, Manuel, 7, and Victor, 3.

Castro and his family have been in the United States about four years now, although they have made trips to their native Mexico for occasions such as Victor's birth, he said. The family likes it here and wants to stay. This year, for the first time, they will celebrate Thanksgiving like los Americanos.

"Maybe that means that we are getting used to how things are done here, to the way of life," Manuel Castro said.

'There Is Work'

He said he was not sure how all this Thanksgiving business got started, but he approves. He has a lot to be thankful for, he said.

"One of the reasons that we are here is because this is a country where there are opportunities for everything--and most important, there is work," said Castro, a car painter. "Here life is a little better than where we are from. We have a better standard of living. We miss Mexico, but one has to look for better opportunities."

Carmen Castro had never cooked a turkey in her life, she said, but she would do so Thursday for about 20 relatives who would be sharing a meal at her house. No problem, she said; Americans do it all the time.

Outside, Rosa Maria Ornelas, 19, and her friend Sofia Perez, 24, both from Mexico, were about to set out in search of a thawed turkey at the supermarket. They realized they would not have much time to cook a big bird, but that was all right. "If we don't find a turkey, then we'll just buy some masa to make tamales," said Ornelas, her shocking pink lips curling into a big smile.

There would be none of that for Robert Young, 63, father of 13. He had just left his neighbor's house in Santa Ana early Thursday afternoon with a homemade pumpkin pie. In a few hours, he said, he would be sitting down with his family for a traditional eat-until-you-can't-eat-any-more Thanksgiving feast. And then they would have the pumpkin pie.

"Beautiful," he said, anticipating that blissful moment.

And yes, Young said, he does feel he has something in common with the Pilgrims at that long-ago feast: Gratitude.

"I'm thankful for being alive and that all of my kids are healthy," he said.

For Shawn Wilson, however, Thanksgiving Day would be nothing special. The 21-year-old Irvine resident would be working, as usual, at his two security-guard jobs.

He admitted that his knowledge of the holiday is rather sketchy. "I don't know whose idea Thanksgiving was," he said. "Maybe it had something to do with the Pilgrims. But gee whiz, I don't know, and I studied history, too. Now that I'm thinking about it, maybe it wasn't the Pilgrims. I couldn't tell you. Shame on me."

But as it was Thanksgiving, Wilson said perhaps he would have a few slices of white meat later in the evening at his girlfriend's house, where he would visit for two hours between jobs.

And once he got to thinking about it, he did say he had a few things to be thankful for.

"Oh, one thing that I'm thankful for probably would be that my girlfriend is going to have a baby--this Dec. 14," he said. "I'll be thankful if it's healthy."

Jerry Lester, 43, didn't have to think too long about what he was thankful for. Comfortably dressed in a short-sleeved polo shirt Thursday, he was tinkering with Three Bells, his 42-foot yacht moored at the Balboa Yacht Basin Marina in Newport Beach. Later, he said, he would be eating a fancy meal with his family.

"What do I have to be thankful for?" he mused, concentrating his stare on the distant blue waters of the Pacific. "Well, it's a great day. I just bought this boat, and I'm glad to be able to do that. And I am thankful that I have a great wife and a stepdaughter."

Lester may have been a little rusty on his Thanksgiving history--the date was about 100 years off--but, hey, he had the idea. He's happy to be where he is.

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