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When it comes to celebrating holidays, there are many that translate well as they are universal holidays. And then, there are some that we adopt and make our own. Growing up in the United States I never realized that holidays such as Thanksgiving don’t exist in my parents’ countries. And yet my parents and grandparents came to this country and embraced this holiday for what it represents: The act of giving thanks and family.
For me, Thanksgiving means driving 5 hours to Houston to visit with my tios y primos. It means “estrenar” a new outfit even if all you are doing is chasing after your baby cousins or sitting in the living room chatting with your aunts. It’s the smell of pernil that’s been cooking for hours and trying to steal a spoonful of arroz con gandules when nobody is watching. Or finally, hearing my tio announce that the food is ready, but making sure that first we give thanks to God for all the good He has done for us.
And I can’t forget my second favorite part of the night, after eating, of course…we take pictures! Taking pictures can last over an hour as we make sure to take every group photo possible. First, the Hernandez and then the Posas, the Aranzazu and the Valladares. Now all the first cousins and now the new generation. It can be annoying, but at the same time my Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.
Local TV personality and DJ Felipe Estrada never celebrated Thanksgiving before moving to the United States. In fact, the first time he celebrated the holiday was while visiting family in Orlando, Florida when he was 15 years-old. Although the holiday was strange to him, he remembers trying sweet potato pie for the first time and really liking it. “At first I didn’t get it, but the following year I ended up understanding the whole concept,” said Estrada. Since his first Thanksgiving, Estrada’s family continues to celebrate the holiday as a fusion of his two cultures, stating that at his table there is always a turkey and the Honduran stape, sopa de caracol (conch soup).
EatenPathNola’s Nicole Caridad Ralston had a different experience while growing up in South Florida with her Cuban family. From a very young age, Ralston loved to help her mother in the kitchen. “Our menu was very different. We always had a turkey, but we also had congri, yuca, platano, so it was a mix,” said Ralston. Even now the food blogger loves to cook and volunteers to prepare the turkey in a mojo, whether she is spending time with her family in Florida or with her husband’s family.
It also never occurred to me how my Thanksgiving experience differed from that of my non-Latino friends. I recently had a non-Latino friend tell me that she thought it was so odd how we dress so fancy or how we eat so late. Another friend told me that he was shocked because his family tends to be distant, but he was surprised at how his Latino friend’s family made him feel right at home. I couldn’t help but laugh at how true some of these observations are and how strange my Thanksgiving traditions might seem.
While Thanksgiving might not be a universal holiday and our traditions vary from person to person, one thing is for sure: Thanksgiving has a universal message, one that everyone can relate to regardless of the cultural barrier. As humans, sometimes we can get so wrapped-up in our daily lives that we forget to be grateful. In some ways I think this holiday is necessary to slow down for at least one day to recount the good things in our life…and if it comes with a side of pernil and arroz con gandules, why not?