This year marks my fourth Thanksgiving since coming to America.
I am still sitting on the fence when it comes to how I feel about this holiday.
Thanksgiving reminds me of the arguments people make about separating a great work of art from the highly flawed artist who produced it. Think, when R. Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ comes on and you have to physically clamp your lips shut so you don’t belt out the lyrics. Or how can you possibly admire Picasso’s ‘The Weeping Woman’ without abhorring the misogynistic contempt behind each brush stroke?
Similarly, I wonder about this beloved day of feast and family, and how—or if—we can separate it from its origins.
The centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal is the turkey. With the booming turkey population on the North Fork, we skipped the store-bought turkey this year, and my father caught a wild bird. The turkey breast has been brining since the night before, this is essential to keep the meat moist and flavorful.
What surprised me—and set this Thanksgiving apart from seasons past–was how readily my folks took to it. Of course, there was still the gaping difference in our world views and the questions I have about my parents’ beliefs. But this year, for the first time, we spent Thanksgiving in New York, far from my family’s natural habitat in the rolling prairies and rural towns that speckle the 200-mile expanse between Dallas and Austin. They were here for four days, and I wanted to show them all of the city that I could, while offering some semblance of a life that I’ve made for myself these past two years since I moved away from home.
I am from a rambunctious Trinidadian family that has been coming to New York in waves since 1917 when my great-grandfather James French, a shipwright, became the first to emigrate. My nuclear family was part of the last big wave of Caribbean kids and their parents who came to America between the late 1960s and the late 1970s.
My family doesn’t usually celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving. To us, it’s just another day on the calendar. My mom doesn’t make turkey. We don’t eat mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, corn or gravy.
On those occasions, one of my parents makes a Mexican dish, usually my mom. I’ve spent Thanksgivings eating tamales, enchiladas de mole, chilaquiles, tacos, lamb, steak or if someone actually wants turkey, pavo enchilado—turkey marinated in chile rojo. Pretty much any major Mexican dish graces our Thanksgiving table. This year it’s pozole.
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I generally wake up on Thanksgiving morning to the sound of smoke alarms, and my first thought is to determine if it’s coming from our kitchen or one of the five other units in our apartment building. As I stumble out of bed and into the living room, I discover that, as per usual, the alarm is coming from the unit beneath us.