Turkey and Tamales: Appreciating a Multicultural Thanksgiving through Stories and Food
Multicultural Ortega Thanksgiving

The Ortega family shares fond memories of a multicultural Thanksgiving.


We over-packed the car and drove to New York City to visit my husband’s family for Thanksgiving.

As with my packing, I’ve been known to over-dramatize the difficulty of traveling with small children. In spite of all that, our family is not alone: Thanksgiving weekend remains the most traveled time of year in the United States, as relatives separated by distance return home to take part in the yearly feast.

Growing up, one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions was playing a chaotic game of Leaf Football with my brothers, cousins, and uncles, wreaking havoc on our yard and its organized piles of autumn leaves.

We enjoyed the traditional meal—my favorite side dish is sweet potato casserole—and I’d often make the family participate in some gratitude activity, like each person writing out a blessing on a paper turkey cutout and affixing it to a poster board.

My brother John hated watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; I loved it.

Now my children have the opportunity to watch the legendary New York parade in person (but seeing the balloons inflated on the Upper West Side the day before may be even more fun). And while some years we’ve eaten turkey with my Mexican in-laws, this year we’ll forgo the traditional Thanksgiving meal in favor of tamales.

Ortega kids NYC ThanksgivingIt’s impressive, kind of mind-blowing, that most people across the country enjoy basically the same meal on Thanksgiving, with several elements in common with the first Thanksgiving feast shared by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe: turkey, corn, pumpkin, cranberries.

As an aside: I’d argue that someone needs to make a national case for bringing back the venison.

Allowing for regional variations, of course (I don’t want to get into a stuffing debate), our traditional Thanksgiving menu represents a bountiful harvest—something to enjoy and be grateful for.

I’m certainly not disappointed, however, to dig into some authentic Mexican food instead this Thanksgiving.

First of all: que rico. It’s delicious.

Secondly, the Thanksgiving story is one of immigrants. As we tell and retell our national legend of that first Thanksgiving feast, sometimes we’ll get details wrong, but we know with certainty that it was a multicultural meal.

This gives us a great opportunity to talk with our children about our country’s unique history. We’re not a homogeneous nation; our population doesn’t share a common race but shares common ideas about liberty and opportunity.

As my daughters and I checked out Thanksgiving books from our local library and learned about the holiday’s history, I was reminded about how much I’ve forgotten or didn’t learn in the first place.

In a journey slightly more arduous than our drive from DC to NYC, the Mayflower originally set sail for Virginia, but storms blew the ship off course to Massachusetts, where the pilgrims decided to remain since winter was coming quickly.

After that first terrible winter, when more than half the pilgrims died, Squanto taught them American hunting and fishing techniques, and how to plant corn, pumpkins, and beans together to enrich the soil.

Next- Hispanics, Native Americans, Indian stew and NYC


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