Feliz Thanksgiving: How mi Familia Merges Culture and Tradition

Feliz Thanksgiving: How mi Familia Merges Culture and Tradition

See how one Latina fuses her Hispanic heritage with American tradition for Thanksgiving.


By: Janel Martinez

My earliest memories of Thanksgiving involve my grade school teachers reading stories about the Pilgrims and Native Americans. And, as the story goes, Plymouth Rock was where the tradition all started.

As a Honduran-American, my family’s story started a little differently. My parents – both of Garifuna descent and born in Honduras – weren’t brought up with the American Thanksgiving traditions. Still, we observe the holiday as a family, despite a few hiccups along the way.

One odd experience was when my schoolteacher asked us each to bring in a butternut squash. Both my mother and I had questions about the assignment, but we trusted la maestra. So on the day of the assignment, I left my house with an unfamiliar, long-necked, roundish tan vegetable and returned with a carved ship that represented the Mayflower. Who would’ve thought? (I know mamá and I were clueless.)

We’ve come a long way since then.

Now, we have a hub where we fuse new and old traditions: at my family’s comfortable South Bronx apartment. For us, the tradition starts before Thanksgiving – when either my mother or an aunt cashes in on their supermarket points to score a frozen turkey. Yes, we enjoy a nice moist, well-seasoned bird, but the same can be said about a succulent jamón or the occasional pernil. Our menu is reflective of the mixed heritage that makes up our Afro-Latino home.

The side dishes – my all-time favorite offerings – include arroz con frijoles, potato salad, mac and cheese, stuffing and collard greens, among other things. And abuela never forgets a favorite and quintessential Thanksgiving side, the cranberry sauce.

Though I’m far from a cocinera, this is one of the few times I’m willing to roll my sleeves up and stand over the stove to make empanadas con queso.

If I don’t bring a dessert, I’ll whip up homemade biscuits. Not the Honduran Johnny cakes we so often eat, but a more American-inspired dish. The dessert spread often reflects our second home’s traditions: cheesecake, brownies, cheese Danish, cookies and the like.

But this is sweetest tradition we’ve adopted: Before we dig into our very full plates, we each take a moment to say what we’re thankful for. Being surrounded by family in a warm home filled with love and laughter is one of the many reasons Thanksgiving is full of smiles.

With the addition of children and grandchildren, as well as family that has settled in the U.S., the Velasquez-Martinez clan has gotten more into the Thanksgiving spirit.

We’ve just put our own sabor on it!

Janel Martinez of AintILatina.com is a Honduran-American journalist whose work and insights have appeared on various media sites including Cosmopolitan for Latinas, NPR’s Latino USA, HuffPost Live, Madame Noire, Black Enterprise and The Root, as well as Arise News.


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