Thanksgiving has been a tradition in the Americas since 1621 when Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a meal to celebrate the autumn harvest. Today, Thanksgiving traditions vary family to family. With many UCSB students coming from an immigrant background, often with relatives who had never heard of Thanksgiving prior coming to the United States, their Thanksgivings reflect a diverse cultural background.
The Nexus spoke with students who immigrated or have parents who immigrated to the U.S. to learn how they integrate their families’ traditions with those of the customary Thanksgiving practices.
Second-year mathematics major Alejandro Stawsky said when his parents first migrated to the U.S. from Uruguay, they didn’t originally celebrate Thanksgiving.
“When we first came here, they had no idea what Thanksgiving was,” Stawsky said. “I would go to school and then I would come back home and ask, ‘Are we doing Thanksgiving?’”
Stawsky said his family now mixes Thanksgiving traditions with its Jewish background by celebrating a Shabbat dinner, the Jewish Sabbath meal, on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
“During Shabbat, we incorporate Thanksgiving,” Stawsky said. “We make tortas de papa, bourekas, baba ghanoush and go around the table saying what we’re thankful for.”
Second-year global studies and political science double major Kajol Raju said her Punjabi family spends Thanksgiving at her grandparents’ house with a meal of traditional Indian food.
“We have turkey, and my aunt makes a ham and mashed potatoes, and then my aunts or grandma will make Indian food like curry chicken or tandoori chicken, and we’ll have sweets like gulab jamun.” Raju said. “After, we throw on an Indian movie and dance.”
Fourth-year anthropology and art history double major Diana Torres Luevanos said for her Mexican family, the phrase “vamos a comer,” which means “let’s eat,” signifies Thanksgiving.
“When I first arrived to the States, I didn’t really celebrate Thanksgiving how everyone did,” Torres Luevanos said.
Torres Luevanos said today, though, Thanksgiving is an important family tradition.
“We now get together every year in our church and have a whole ceremony on giving thanks,” Torres Luevanos said. “Then we eat tamales, arroz, frijoles and a bunch of Mexican food; sometimes my sister even makes fresas con crema, which is strawberries and cream.”
Second-year mathematics major Armin Mahini said he and his Iranian parents combine typical Thanksgiving dinner with Persian food.
“Typically we have tahdig, which is a crispy rice dish, but there’s also American food,” Mahini said.
Second-year biochemistry major Allysa Foot’s mother is Vietnamese and her father is Honduran. Foot said Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday because it is one of the few occasions in which her family can “appreciate the differences” and celebrate the “beauty” behind the different cultures involved.
“My mom’s side of the family will make seafood like crawfish and crab or clams and oysters … and my dad’s side of the family makes tamales or enchiladas,” Foot said. “They truly give thanks this way by being able to come together and embrace one another and their differences.”
Foot said Thanksgiving reminds her of being “enveloped in a blanket.”
“You’re enveloped in this total complete warmth, and it’s comforting, and it’s safe and it’s beautiful,” Foot said. “It’s home. That’s what it is.”