Story and photos by Daniel Collins
I had a very different Thanksgiving this year.
A turkey glazed with homegrown habanera peppers was just one small difference I experienced. I was afforded the opportunity of spending Thanksgiving with an Afghani Muslim family with El Salvadoran relatives, and it turned out to be very different from what I had imagined. All the same, it was Thanksgiving and I was thankful to be spending it with my boyfriend’s family.
When first thinking about spending a traditional holiday with a not-so-traditional American family, I was intrigued about what food we would be eating, the customs throughout the dinner and what languages I would hear.
As I walked into the New Jersey home, women and men came up to me, shaking my hand, kissing me, saying nice to meet you. Football on the plasma television, wine glasses clinking, and English flowing throughout the house.
After quick hellos, everyone went to the basement to play cards and charades. This went on for hours, as a group that ranged from adults, to high schoolers, to young children had a great time.
Soon, we made our way upstairs to the dining room, where Thanksgiving was truly different.
Out came a turkey glazed with habanera peppers and cilantro. The host and the chef boasted how she marinated the turkey for three days.
Then came an enormous bowl of traditional Afghani rice covered in cilantro. Mash potatoes were passed around, cranberries and stuffing, as well.
To my surprise, the Afghani and El Salvadorian food mixed perfectly with the American food. All the spices being tossed around in my mouth generated a whirlwind of excitement and a longing to have this type of food every Thanksgiving.
By the end of the meal, four or five platefuls had been devoured by each person. A mix of Farsi and English was now spoken around the table, so everyone was included in the mix of conversations.
Then it was time for dessert. Afghani patties with confectioner’s sugar were passed around, rice crispies, and of course pumpkin pie.
Like any dinner party, dancing followed. Traditional Persian music was followed by meringue, then Reggaeton. Everyone bonded with their shoulder shrugs, hip pops, leg bends and head snaps as the meal was danced away, calorie by calorie.
As midnight neared, I had a train to catch back to the city. While on the train, I thought about of how, with all the racism, prejudice and homophobia in this country, my Thanksgiving seemed to defeat all the ignorance that surrounds us every day.
I thought of how many people were racist toward Muslims and Middle Easterners after the Sept. 11 attacks, while here I had been surrounded by an amazing group of beautiful, loving Afghani people who treated me as if I were part of their family.
I thought about the prejudice that surrounds Latino people in the work force and the stereotypes that follow them. I spent my Thanksgiving with El Salvadorians who were anything but a stereotype. These people cooked for me and made sure I had a place to stay on the biggest holiday in the United States.
Homophobia is a constant struggle in this country and might be for years. But I sat with my Afghani Muslim boyfriend at Thanksgiving dinner with his Muslim El Salvadorian family with not one glare or judging eye.
This Thanksgiving defied all the hate that surrounds us in this country every day. I was thankful to be in the presence of such a diverse and loving group of people. The food was just a bonus.