Bilingual is Better
This Thanksgiving I'm Thankful for Our Differences

{Image by: catnipstudio}

My family has always celebrated Thanksgiving, and as long as I remember it has marked the official start of the holiday season. Last year, I wrote about how mi familia comes together for the holidays, and how it makes for a crowded and busy time. Now that I have a family of my own, we alternate holidays with each side of the family, allowing our kids the opportunity to form memories with everyone in their large, beautiful, diverse family.

It’s not always easy. One year, before we had children, we attempted to drive up from San Diego to the Bay Area the night before Thanksgiving. It took us 8 hours to get just past Los Angeles. My husband was sick with the flu, and he was barely conscious in the passenger seat as I drove late into the night. We spent the night at a Motel 6 in Gilroy. It was the last time we drove up for Thanksgiving.This year, we’re driving again…

As it turns out, airfare from Burbank to Oakland the day before Thanksgiving for a family of four costs about the same as a cruise. So our plan is to leave early today and pray, basically. I’m nervous, but despite our negative past experience, I am also excited. The joy of being together with my family is as strong now as it always has been. Now that I have daughters to share it with, it is almost greater. So it’s worth it. Like so many of you, we go to great lengths to get to our holiday celebrations because they matter deeply to us. It’s a time to celebrate and give thanks for the many blessings we have. Our most cherished gifts are our familia and our cultures.

My immediate family is from El Salvador, and when we are all together, while a lot of English is spoken, we slip into and out of Spanish as we prepare the meals, play with the children, and just generally catch up.  Sure, we have turkey with cranberry sauce and stuffing, but the next day that turns into pan con chumpe. We have apple pie, but we also have flan. Right next to the mashed potatoes is the chirmol. At my in-laws as well, because my father-in-law’s family is Mexican, we get to enjoy the most delicious tamales and chile rellenos along with the sweet potatoes and spiced apple cider.

 

Doy gracias que mis niñas pueden disfrutar de las dos culturas. I am so thankful that my girls will have memories that might fit right in with their Anglo counterparts at school, but that they will also have those special memories that are particular to our cultures. Like me, they will think of Thanksgiving and think of their pavo con gaucamole y chirmol. In most cultures, food is important, and ours are no exception. The smell of many foods, and certainly the act of cooking family recipes takes me right back to my childhood standing at my abuelita’s elbow as she cooked, peering over the edge of the counters, watching the colorful ingredients magically transformed by her cooking.

I am so thankful that my girls are growing up with a family full of people who are both like them and different than them. Like many Latino families, taking a look around at our celebrations is a lesson in diversity: we have curly hair, wavy hair, straight hair; we have every shade of skin from light to dark; we are tall and short; and some of us are newly born, while others are great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers.

You know, I say we are Latino, but I really mean our immediate family is Latino, because in truth, our familia, including cousins and aunts and uncles and beyond, are a multitude of cultures. My girls have cousins who are Colombian, Guatemalan, Mexican, Salvadoran, Filipino, Anglo, Chinese, and more. When they picture their familia, they picture a beautiful spectrum of loving faces who are connected by culture, but also beyond culture through love.

I am thankful that being different is meaningless to my girls because we are all different. Our circle of friends includes adoptive families and other mixed-race families, like ours, and it’s just normal. Marisol understands that not all babies look like miniatures of their parents and it doesn’t phase her. She knows that familia is defined by who you love and who loves you.

The tradition of Thanksgiving Day is an American one. We all know it started with Native Americans generously celebrating the harvest with pilgrims struggling to feed the members of their colony.  I know that I myself picture that scene uneasily, thinking of the atrocities of colonization.

But I do celebrate the day: I celebrate the harvest and the seeds that sustain; I celebrate generosity and kindness; I celebrate the idea that we can come together with our differences and share in traditions both old and new. I look at my girls in the laps of their tias y tios, listening in two languages, being fed morsels made with love and I am filled with an abundance of gracias.

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