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November 26, 2015

From Tamales to Turkey: Thanksgiving in Two Cultures

Photo: Zerethv

By Yesenia Aguilar, South Kern Sol

Ed. Note: South Kern Sol is our sister youth media program out of South Kern County. Yesenia Aguilar, 16, is a student at Arvin High School, she joined South Kern Sol’s youth reporting team in September. 

Tamales and Champurrado. That’s the typical Latino Thanksgiving, at least in my household.  That is until three years ago. This was when my family became ‘Americanized,’ and my mom got into a turkey, mashed potatoes, and corn frenzy.

For most of my life, my sister and I would wake up on Thanksgiving and help my mom gather the ingredients for tamales. The day before my mom would’ve gone to buy what we needed. Then the long process begins. The masa is cooked, chicken or pork simmers on the stove, and delicious smells flow through the house. My mom sets up at one station, and my sister and I get ready to take our place in the assembly line. First my mom scoops the chicken into the masa, and I get ready to wrap it. After we make all the tamales, the long, agonizing wait until dinner commences. That’s how my parents have been celebrating this holiday for the past 20 years.

Recently though, the tamales have been replaced with a turkey. My sister and I still help my mom prepare it, then we wait. If you have ever cooked a turkey you know how long it takes. When the turkey is ready, we all gather around the table with our plates overflowing with green beans, pasta salad, corn, mashed potatoes, and of course turkey, and we pray. We thank God for all that he has given us and for having each other. Then we eat.

I would have never expected my family to move from a traditional Latino Thanksgiving to a more Americanized one. I would have never imagined that the delicious tamales and the steaming hot champurrado (a thick Mexican drink made with hot chocolate and corn masa or flour), both staples during Thanksgiving, would be replaced by a turkey.

I admit that I was more than devastated when my mom told me we weren’t going to be making tamales that first year.  But I am open to new traditions. The change didn’t break my heart entirely because it has helped me appreciate both of my cultures. It helped me see that when you are from two different places, or in my case, three (my dad is from Guatemala) we have to be open to new experiences.

I learned that change can be good and that it all begins with how willing we are to embrace it. It might be only turkey for now, but sooner or later it is going to be bigger things. Moving from eating tamales to eating turkey on this holiday has been eye opening for me because it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on how different cultures come into play in my life. My family is built from several different cultures and what I have to do is accept them. I can’t neglect any of my cultural backgrounds because that is like neglecting myself.

So this year I am thankful. I’m thankful for having my family by my side and thankful for having food on our table. I am thankful for the different cultures in my life and how they have shaped who I am. Most of all I am thankful for being alive. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and whether you’re having tamales or turkey, remember to be thankful for all that you have.



About the Author

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