When I was younger, I resented Thanksgiving. I hated that we hosted it at our house, and I hated the people we invited; sometimes, I even hated the food.
See, growing up in an immigrant household, you learn about traditions and holidays from your two major sources of information: school and the media. In Mexico, Thanksgiving doesn’t exist. Thanksgiving was a whole new concept 22 years ago; one that my mom and I had to learn from others because despite my dad living here for a few years before us, he didn’t quite get it either.
Our first Thanksgiving is a complete blank in my mind. My mom tells me it was a weird experience. We had only been in America for two days, and we were thrust into one of its most American traditions. My mom was confused as to why our neighbors kept insisting we go have dinner with strangers, and my dad didn’t elaborate past the “it’s just what you do here.”
It wasn’t until the next year that my mom and I truly began to understand Thanksgiving, and when I began to resent it. Our first few years in America, my mom and I learned things simultaneously. We learned that Thanksgiving was a day to give thanks for everything we had, and a day to be grateful that we weren’t Native Americans in the 1600s. I remember my mom and I talking about the Pilgrims and their black hats and buckles like it was gospel. I watched TV specials depicting large tablescapes overflowing with food and fall décor, and I yearned for my table to look like that. Everywhere I looked, I saw a magical, idealized holiday full of family and football and trips to grandmother’s house or one where all the cousins come to visit. Everyone always sat at the table and said grace while the family patriarch carved the turkey. Then plates would be heaped with traditionally American food and the house would be warm and full of family. This was the Thanksgiving I yearned for. Instead, the Thanksgiving my mom created was one full of strangers; people my parents called friends because they were nice, not because they were actual friends. Acquaintances and coworkers would be the more appropriate term. All my relatives lived thousands of miles away. I would always grumble about people I didn’t like invading our house and eating the food my mom spent all day making, and how I would never get to have the perfect Thanksgiving.
I dreaded going back to school after Thanksgiving weekend because everyone had stories to tell about the food they ate and the family they got to hang out with. I was always left explaining that no, the people at my house weren’t family, and no, I honestly didn’t even know most of their last names, and that my mom didn’t know how to make apple pie, but her pie de queso was always a hit.
It wasn’t until middle school when I finally asked my mom why the hell we always had to host Thanksgiving at our house for a bunch of strangers that I didn’t even like, and didn’t she get that this was supposed to be about family, when she finally explained. She told me that the reason she invited a lot of her coworkers and other acquaintances wasn’t because they were best buddies, but instead because she knew that here in America, they were alone. She told me that the reason she always made so much food for them, even when they barely knew each other, was because this was the only home cooked meal they could enjoy with a family. She told me that when she first learned about Thanksgiving, she learned that it was supposed to be about taking people in and sharing what little you had so that everyone could feel welcome. She told me that even if it was just for one night, we could all choose to be family and enjoy Thanksgiving in our own way: in a tiny house, with everyone eating as they came in, heaping their plates interspersed with all sorts of Mexican delicacies and traditional American dishes. When she finally explained it, I saw that what I thought was wrong or imperfect was in fact perfect in its own unique way. I thought my mom had missed what real Thanksgiving was about; instead, she had learned it better than I had all those years ago. She understood that it was about sharing and making people feel welcomed and like part of a family even if it’s just for one night.
Now, whenever the first week of November rolls around, I’m the one asking her who she’s going to adopt and invite into our home. I don’t resent the people who my mom welcomes into our home anymore; in fact, I even suggest new ones every year. And as for the cooking, I make sure I help her with some of the more traditional dishes because every holiday needs apple pie.