The United States is defined by many things – but the tradition of mixing cultures has been part of its foundation from the moment European explorers set foot in the "New World" – a world which was not new to the indigenous people who had lived here for centuries.
There is no way to romanticize the process of this originally forced mixing of cultures, although school text books try their best. Whether it was the Spanish converting native peoples to Catholicism or British colonists forcing African slaves to take on Anglo names – the history is often tragic and unpleasant.
As more and more immigrants from around the world came to call the United States home, this country became known as a "melting pot." While generations ago many immigrants did attempt to shed their language and traditions – or were forced to melt or blend in – thankfully, today that isn't quite the case. More modern analogies compare the United States to salad, stew, stir fry and even sandwiches, rather than a "melting pot" – with the point being that each culture, while harmonizing with the others – is still distinguishable and unique.
The fast growing Latino population in the United States means that the American stew of tradition and culture continue to mix – sometimes in fascinating ways, and one of the best times of the year to observe it is during holidays such as Thanksgiving.
In Latin America, Thanksgiving is not traditionally celebrated, but in the United States, most Latinos recognize the day along with everyone else and the foods that grace tables across the country are just as diverse as Americans themselves. While some of my Latina friends say they prefer a "gringo" Thanksgiving, many have put a Latin twist on their holiday spread. Here are some of the dishes that will be served at some of my friends' houses this year when their families gather to give thanks:
"…alongside the pumpkin pie, I also serve pumpkin flan." - Maura Hernandez
"…when I am cooking the Thanksgiving meal, my turkey is glazed in guava and port, my pie is a pumpkin flan with gingersnap crust and while I do potatoes, my preference is for the mojo-soaked yuca of my childhood." – Carrie Ferguson Weir
"The way we mix our cultures together in America is by using the American tradition of the turkey but having the Spanish stuffing: arroz con garbanzos, cebollitas, alcaparras, uvas, y olivas, mezclado con comino, aji, y paprika. [Rice with chickpeas, onions, capers, grapes, and olives, mixed with cumin, aji and paprika.] We are Colombian, and this Spanish stuffing is always the favorite part of the American holiday." – Alexandra Rosas
"We serve Tamales, Champurado, Pan Dulce, Queso Fresco y Chocolate Abuelita with traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I'm also sure my sister-in-law will bring her delicious homemade salsas frescas." – Eva Smith
"I serve pumpkin margaritas, lots of them!" - Vianney Rodriguez
"We have our turkey con arroz." – Yolanda Machado
As you can see, the American melting pot no longer exists. These days you could say we're more like pico de gallo, which incidentally tastes really good on Thanksgiving turkey.
Photographer for above photo: Jeanine Thurston. Image provided by Muy Bueno Cookbook. Click here for Capirotada (Mexican bread pudding) Recipe.
"Fortunately, the time has long passed when people liked to regard the United States as some kind of melting pot, taking men and women from every part of the world and converting them into standardized, homogenized Americans. We are, I think, much more mature and wise today. Just as we welcome a world of diversity, so we glory in an America of diversity -- an America all the richer for the many different and distinctive strands of which it is woven."-Hubert H. Humphrey
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the Washington DC metro area. She is the founder of Latinaish.com.