Thanksgiving was the Original Multicultural Meal

multicultural thanksgiving train

Thanksgiving serves as a wonderful reminder of the different foods, faiths, and freedoms Americans enjoy. Here are some great ways to celebrate this day from Josie Ortega.

Macy's thanksgiving day parade floatsOur Thanksgiving traditions

Along with turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, I’m hoping to eat some tamales for Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Our tradition is to trek to New York City to celebrate Thanksgiving with my Mexican in-laws. My husband’s family moved to the United States, to New York City, when he was five years old. He still remembers the first English word he learned: sneakers.

Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday—maybe because he’s so grateful and proud to be an American, or maybe because of all of the food.

The day before Thanksgiving, we’ll head to the Upper West Side to eat pizza and watch teams of volunteers inflate enormous balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Some years we wake up early the next morning to brave the cold and find a spot to watch the parade in person; some years we watch on TV.  Every year we eat bagels.

tamales Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving comida

On Thursday, if we’re lucky, my mother-in-law cooks tamales, or another Mexican specialty, to supplement the traditional Thanksgiving feast. What I know for sure: there will be plenty of comida.

My mother-in-law shows her love by feeding us. It’s not uncommon to see rice, pasta, tortillas, and potatoes offered in her kitchen—at the same meal. (For the record: I was never allowed to order more than one starch at Cracker Barrel.)

I’ve come to believe that tamales are perfectly appropriate for Thanksgiving. Aside from being delicious, their masa filling reminds us of the corn that the Wampanoag people shared with the Pilgrims.

oil painting first ThanksgivingA multicultural meal

Thanks to Squanto, the Pilgrims learned hunting, fishing, and planting techniques that worked well in the Americas, and they were able to survive after losing half their population during the harsh 1620-1621 winter.

And thanks to my in-laws, I’m reminded that at its heart, Thanksgiving is a multicultural meal.

In New York, we have opportunities to eat some of the tastiest foods from all over the world. (Little Italy, here I come!) Though of course there are challenges when people from different backgrounds come together, it’s clear to me that great, delicious things can happen when cultures combine and influence one another.

I understand that not everyone enjoys an NYC Thanksgiving, complete with authentic Mexican food. But if you’re married and raising children, you have experience in navigating between different family cultures and combining traditions to come up with something new. And solo adults, too, still must decide how and whether to maintain, adapt, or let go of family traditions.

The Pilgrims made their long voyage to be able to worship God in freedom. At Thanksgiving, we can talk about our own families and their reasons for moving to the United States when they did. We can appreciate our own multicultural heritage. And we can eat foods to reflect it!

view of Ellis IslandVisiting Ellis Island

This year we put a new outing on the agenda for our NYC Thanksgiving trip: Ellis Island. My kids love this book— At Ellis Island: A History in Many Voices—with its narrative of a young Armenian girl traveling to America. It’s full of photos, documents, and quotes from real immigrants who spotted the Statue of Liberty from their ships and passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. (Yes, of course, I cried.)

Our ancestors may have come in ships, or on airplanes from Mexico City. Or they may have been here all along. [For a Native American perspective, check out Cherokee author Traci Sorrell’s We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, a beautifully illustrated children’s book about gratitude.]

Thanksgiving reminds us again that the United States isn’t made up of people who share a common race, but of people who share common ideas about liberty and opportunity. Our motto E Pluribus Unum means “Out of many, one”. It’s the perfect idea to bring to your Thanksgiving table, with family stories, and new traditions. And certainly, if you’re very fortunate, both turkey and tamales.

family mealsfreedommulticulturalThanksgivingtraditions

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