Mi Turno/My Turn: Three Stories of New Thanksgivings

Turkey Day is not a Latin AmeriWan tradition, so it can be a bit of a puzzlement to new immigrants arriving in the United States. ¿Un pavo? ¿Y lo llenan con pan? Though we usually come to embrace it (and pretty quickly -- there’s food and family involved, after all) there can be a period of adjustment. Below, what happened when three Latino families first met Thanksgiving.

Margarita Valdivieso, México

Eight years ago, in my first year in the United States, I was volunteering at my child’s school to learn English. Thanksgiving Day was coming and they invited all the staff to celebrate with a lunch. Well, in México we have a "good manners” tradition that you never arrive at someone’s houses empty-handed, so I made pumpkin candy to take with me. That day, I put my dish on the big table and three African American teachers asked me, “What is that?”  When I answered that it was a Mexican pumpkin dessert, one of them said, “Oh my gosh! Get out of here!” I felt so bad; I turned around and snuck out. Next day one of the Hispanic teachers asked me why I left the party so soon. I explained what happened and she began to laugh. She told me, “Chica, it’s an expression!” I’m still having trouble with my English, but at least no one kicks me out with just an expression!

Sibella Corbin, Costa Rica

Being a teacher, my husband told me all about Thanksgiving, but he wanted me to see all the special foods and the turkey. What he forgot was that, that first Thanksgiving, it was just his mom, me and him. We had so much food, we ate turkey almost for a month! But we loved the holiday and our four children would too. Now, after 45 years together, we are back at the same point of being just the two of us and still very grateful to this beautiful country and all it offers.

Diego Ribadeneira, Ecuador

Since my parents were immigrants from Ecuador, the last Thursday in November usually meant nothing more in our household than than a day off from work. Thanksgiving, a very American holiday, was not celebrated in Ecuador.
But that quickly changed once I started school. Why were the families of the other children in the class celebrating Thanksgiving complete with turkey and stuffing and we were not? Parental guilt quickly turned into action and soon a big frozen bird made its way across the threshold of our apartment in Queens, New York and into my mom’s preheated oven.
And that’s how Thanksgiving became part of our family ritual. And not just for my parents, my sister and I. All the other relatives embraced the tradition. Through the years I remember huge feasts in my parents’ house. So big, in fact, that some years two turkeys were needed to satisfy all the hungry guests. Now that my sister and I have families of our own, Thanksgiving has become deeply ingrained. It would feel, look, smell and taste very much like celebrations down the street, across town, across the United States. Except the one constant, the one demand is the presence of my mom’s stuffing -- that delicious dose of sweetness lent by cooked prunes. It is the stuffing my mom invented all those years ago to satisfy her son who yearned for a taste of the land that was his home.

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