I put out a call on Twitter earlier this month asking how you celebrated Thanksgiving. It’s quite clear that for Latinx families, this traditional holiday is anything but.
The most common responses pertained to turkey, which my colleague Lucas Kwan Peterson put last in his Thanksgiving power rankings. Maybe if he had it the way you guys normally eat it, he’d change his mind.
For those of you whose families hail from Puerto Rico, there’s pavochón, which is turkey seasoned like a lechón.
Salvadoran American respondents touted pan con chumpe, either as leftovers or as the main course. If you’ve never had this delicious sandwich, you’re missing out.
Of course, not everyone is eating turkey for Thanksgiving. Some Cuban Americans eat lechón asado, some Argentinian Americans go with churrasco, and there are Colombian Americans eating sancocho de rés — a beefy broth.
And then there are the sides, oh my! Who needs green bean casserole, regular ol’ boring stuffing or cranberry sauce when y’all are eating everything from mofongo stuffing, congri oriental, tequeños and pasteles en hoja? Oh, and tortillas instead of cornbread.
Not all Latinx Thanksgiving traditions involve food. A few of you mentioned eating dinner very late, the next day or in some cases not at all. I can relate. Growing up, celebrating this holiday was a rarity for my family, and when we did have it, it was usually thanks to the kindness of friends or extended family inviting us into their home.
Regardless of how you celebrate this year, I hope that you are doing it safely, and if you can’t be with your family this year, here’s hoping that you can next Thanksgiving.
Thank you to those who responded to my callout, and to those reading this. I appreciate you.
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Meet our readers: This is how Alejandra Ramos’ Puerto Rican family (usually) celebrates Thanksgiving
One of my favorite responses to the callout, the one that made my mouth water, belonged to chef and TV host Alejandra Ramos. We spoke via Zoom last week to talk about her Boricua Thanksgiving, what it means to her and her family and how the pandemic is making them change it up this year. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
The foods mentioned in your tweet sounded so delicious that I had to follow up. Tell me more more about some of the foods found on your family’s dinner table.
It’s always been this very Puerto Rican-fied version of what we think of as a traditional U.S. Thanksgiving menu. We’ll have a turkey, but the seasoning for it is very much a sofrito-based marinade, like a marinade that’s essentially a cross between a sofrito and a brine because there’s a lot of salt in it. My mom and I marinate the turkey for at least two days, brush it off and then roast it. You’re still getting that roast turkey, but the flavors are very much like cilantro, lots of garlic, cumin, oregano and all the sorts of flavors we grew up eating.
And then the stuffing — my mom makes two. The first would be a picadillo stuffing, which has ground beef, olives and sofrito.
She also does a mofongo stuffing, which uses the platano as the base instead of bread. You fry the plantains, smash them the same way you would make mofongo with chicharron, with garlic, with olive oil, salt, pepper, a little bit of sofrito and maybe a little bit of cumin. You mash it all together, but then it’s wetter than regular mofongo because of the sofrito. You bake it and it gives it a little crispy topping. It’s amazing. (You can find the mofongo recipe here.)
I grew up eating these two versions of stuffing, so bread stuffing to me is like, “What is this? Where’s the meat and plantains?” But interestingly enough, my brother — and I’m not sure how this happened, maybe he had it at a friend’s house when we were younger and he got into it — but he always asks for Stove Top stuffing, and every year my mom makes one batch straight out of the box, following the instructions to the letter, not adding anything to it. She makes one bowl of it, and nobody touches it. It’s all for him.
Aside from the delicious meal you just described, what else do you love about Thanksgiving?
Gratitude is a key tenet of our celebration, and we also go over the year that’s passed. It’s a look back at what we’ve been through, thinking of the good moments, those that have brought us together. My mom also adds a blessing for what’s to come ahead.
It’s also very much about having the ability to come together in the end, to have those little moments — especially as we’ve gotten older and we’ve moved away. My brother is a former Marine, so for some years he couldn’t join us for Thanksgiving, so being able to sit together at the table is a key part of it.
I’m a food person, but the food’s the least interesting part to me. It’s really about the time of getting to be there and to hang out, and we’ll usually stay a day or two at my parent’s house to have those little pockets of time where it’s almost like being a kid again, where you’re just home and have those natural moments together where I might end up watching a show with my mom or playing a game in the living room with my brother.
It’s just about those organic moments together that we get less and less of as we get older as we expand our own lives. It’s a centering thing. It’s the beacon that brings you back home.
How will your family be celebrating this year?
We’re definitely going to have a Zoom Thanksgiving. We talked about it as recently as yesterday. My brother lives in Washington, D.C., and considered getting tested and coming to New Jersey, where my parents live, early. Ultimately it wasn’t worth it to put anyone at risk. We are going to try to figure out a plan for Christmas so we can maybe do it together safely.
But yeah, for Thanksgiving, we’re going to do a Zoom. My mom is even ordering my brother a Thanksgiving dinner because he doesn’t cook so well.
I think what I’ll miss the most is the physical sense of being together. I mean, we’re a very physical people. I miss hugs. My poor dog and husband are bearing the brunt of it.
Yeah, it’s really hard to have a proper Thanksgiving without family being around. From the sounds of it, it’s clearly very important for you. Where does it rank among all the holidays?
It’s definitely up there. I mean, my favorite, it’s Christmas, and Thanksgiving would probably be second, but it’s not even a close second. As a Latina, it’s like a dress rehearsal, like the opening ceremony for the holiday season that for a lot of Latinos goes into January. Thanksgiving is usually when the first batch of coquito is usually made.
My own Thanksgiving tradition: watching the Cowboys lose
I’ll admit it: Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. That can be attributed to two things: the fact that my family rarely celebrated it, and the Dallas Cowboys’ annual Thanksgiving Day game.
(I warned y’all that once in a while, I’d write about sports in this space.)
I don’t hold my lack of enthusiasm for the festivities against my parents. Thanksgiving is a holiday where gratitude is expressed with a bountiful meal shared with loved ones. Truth be told, it’s hard to be thankful when you’re growing up poor.
As I’ve gotten older, I have come to understand that while they could never give their three children everything they’ve ever wanted, my folks provided us with everything we’ve ever needed. That whatever I have accomplished, that the life I have carved out for myself is deeply rooted in the sacrifices they made for us.
These took shape in different forms. It was my dad forfeiting his family plot in Reynosa, Mexico, and the house he was building on it so we could be born in McAllen, Texas — his way of guaranteeing that his three children would at least have a shot at some semblance of an American Dream. It was my mom selling candied apples and flower arrangements to help me buy my first laptop ahead of my freshman year of college.
I am and will continue to be forever grateful for them.
And then there’s the Dallas Cowboys.
If you’re born Mexican and in Texas, you’re pretty much cursed to root for this once great football franchise. Being a diehard fan of America’s Team for the last three decades has resulted in heartbreak after heartbreak on Turkey Day — the Cowboys have played on this holiday every year since 1966, with the exception of 1975 and 1977.
There were Leon Lett in 1993 and Randy Moss in 1998. There was Tony Romo breaking his clavicle in 2015. This one truly hurt. To paraphrase the immortal Terrell Owens, Antonio Ramiro Romo, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant from Coahuila, is and will always be my quarterback. (A side note: If you want a well-written and thorough breakdown of the Cowboys delivering heartbreak on Thanksgiving, I recommend this great story.)
And as the Internet has recently reminded me, there was that Creed halftime performance in 2001, whose horrendousness thankfully distracted me from the truly awful game that bookended it.
But this time, it’ll be different. There’s a silver lining. In a year where everything is in upheaval, where almost nothing is as it once was, a Cowboys defeat will bring me some normalcy to what’s been an abnormal 2020.
There is comfort in that. It’s not much, but I’m grateful for it, and at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get.
“Soy Maradona contra Inglaterra anotándote dos goles”
Diego Armando Maradona, arguably the greatest soccer player of all time, died of a heart attack yesterday. He was 60.
The word legend doesn’t do him justice. For many, he was just simply “D10S” — a god — thanks in large part to him helping Argentina win the 1986 Mexico World Cup. Of note was his two-goal performance against England in the quarterfinals, where he scored the “Hand of God” goal. His second score in that match is considered the greatest goal of all time.
Things we’ve read that you should read
A historic first: On Monday, President-elect Joe Biden named Alejandro Mayorkas as Department of Homeland Security secretary. Mayorkas and his family arrived in the United States as political refugees from Cuba in the 1960s, which would make him the first Latinx person to lead the department. He is credited with being the architect of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. His appointment was met with cautious optimism from several immigrant rights groups.
Peru has had three different presidents over the last few weeks because of massive anti-corruption protests led by young people. CNN’s Claudia Rebaza has the best in-depth analysis in English I’ve seen thus far. (A special shoutout to this Twitter user who called me out for not mentioning what’s been happening in Peru in the previous edition of the Latinx Files. Seriously, thank you.)
Guatemala suspended the ratification of the government’s 2021 budget after demonstrators torched the congressional building over the weekend. The would-be budget cut funding for education, human rights and health services, while also allocating money for meals for legislators.
My colleague Suzy Exposito wrote about the disrespect that the Grammys continue to show Latinx artists. And speaking of music, the Washington Post’s Bethonie Butler wrote about the reckoning within Reggaeton being led by Afro-Latinx artists.
Who’s walking the walk when it comes to diversity? Many companies based in California purport to care about it, but as the Fresno Bee reports, a new tool called “Latino Voices for Boardroom Equity” proves otherwise.
The best thing on the Latinternet: Anything for Selenas
The Selena series on Netflix is slated to come out Dec. 4 (more — a LOT more — on this next week), and ahead of its premiere, my friend and former Los Angeles Times collaborator Beto Duran spoke with producer Jaime Davila for his podcast “Living the Dream.” Davila talks about his journey from the Rio Grande Valley to the Ivy League to making this series a reality.