The American version of Thanksgiving has been celebrated since 1621 when colonists held a feast with local natives to give thanks and sacrifice for the harvest’s blessing. It wasn’t until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday.
Thinking of this day normally conjures up imagery of a roasted turkey you spend days preparing, cheesy mashed potatoes, savory cranberry sauce, and a whole array of American dishes that will be served at the dinner table.
Though Thanksgiving Day isn’t typically celebrated in Latin American countries, Latinxs have adopted the tradition and turned it into an opportunity to celebrate, give thanks, and be with family.
“El día del pavo,” or better known as “Día de Acción de Gracias,” has taken on a cultural identity of its own among the cultures that have settled in the United States and given it the Latinx flavor that traditionally characterizes our community.
It’s imperative to bring a piece of home to the festivities wherever we are and whoever we are with.
Whether it’s Cubans’ platanitos, Colombian rice, Venezuelan quesillo, or Argentinians’ arroz con coco y milanesa, the dishes that distinguish each community’s culture takes center stage at the dinner table.
While the common thread tends to be that a roasted turkey or glazed ham will be the main dish, a flavorful variety is usually incorporated into the evening’s menu and festivities.
In Puerto Rico, for example, Día de Acción de Gracias is typically celebrated with turkey or pernil, arroz con gandules, pasteles, and other Puerto Rican delicacies. All the while, family gatherings suddenly turn into neighborhood-wide parties that blast salsa and reguetón until 3 am.
Truthfully, Latinxs take any opportunity to make a party out of even the simplest holidays, so gathering until morning isn’t just a Puerto Rican phenomenon.
Across cultures, it marks the beginning of one of the most festive periods: Christmas. Beyond presents and food, it becomes a chance to reconnect with those you haven’t seen for months or to go the extra mile to express your gratitude for someone you see every day.
With our mofongos and coquitos in front of the Zoom screen, many of us will be celebrating and expressing gratitude for our tíos and abuelitas virtually this year.
However, the ever-present sentiment of what Thanksgiving means for Latinxs will be a constant even at the digital dinner table.
For us, “el día del pavo” becomes a peculiar hybrid of the assimilation process that comes with migrating to the United States and the honoring of the roots that have made us in the first place. In that hybridity, we proudly bring our own seats to the bigger table set for us in this land.