Thanksgiving embrace: Latinos give thanks for family, food

By Patricia Quijano Dark, Cecilia Skinner, Tania Navarro, and Reinaldo Escobar

Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Nov. 20 2011 3:00 p.m. MST

Dressed as pilgrims and native Americans, members of the Gomez and Torres families sing a song about the first Thanksgiving at their home in Eagle Mountain Friday, November 11, 2011

Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah

With salsa now outranking ketchup as the No. 1 condiment in the U.S. (it accounts for $764 million sales per year), it is no surprise that many turkeys shared by families this Thanksgiving will have a bit more spice.

Come the fourth Thursday in November, Latino families — much like their Anglo neighbors — will gather around the table to give thanks for their blessings.

The food and drink may be different — frijoles instead of mashed potatoes, mojitos instead of cider — but for Latinos, the need to celebrate, to mark a holiday that reflects so directly on their immigrant status, and their arrival in this land of bounty, is undeniable.

Part of the reason this holiday resonates so much with the Latino community is that it enshrines two elements that are central to Latino life: family and food.

In the Hispanic world, life revolves around the family. Extended families live together and maintain close relationships. Food is central to all family reunions, whether they be to celebrate or commiserate. Food brings Latinos together and allows them to recall their homeland while savoring the culinary joys of the world they have settled in.

Anglo neighbors should perhaps marvel that Hispanics from so many countries are celebrating "el da de gracias" (day of thanks) in their own particular way, drawing on both the culinary and social traditions from, say, Guatemala or Colombia or Mexico, while also embracing traditional American forms of celebration.

Although many of these festivities may not seem like a typical Thanksgiving, they are examples of what the holiday in multicultural America truly represents: a celebration that connects all families living in this country as they gather to celebrate the things that came before and to give thanks for the blessings in their lives now.

It's been a decade since the Gomez family left Colombia for Utah, but come Thanksgiving, as turkey-traditional as their celebration is, they never forget their roots.

"We adopted this celebration as a way of giving thanks for the blessings we have received and for the warm welcome this country has given us," said Armando Gomez, patriarch of the family.

Although they share many family activities, this holiday holds its own special place in the family's collective heart. Along with gathering around a great feast, as a family they express their gratitude to the Almighty.

"For us it is not just the turkey and the many dishes that accompany the dinner," Armando said.

"It is a day to recognize that we live in a free country that allows us to raise our children in a safe place such as Utah. It is a day to teach our children and help them to remember that although we are Hispanic, we live in this country with its own history and culture, which we must learn and respect," says Yvonne Torres, Armando Gomez's daughter. She is married and has four children.

Along with the gastronomical excesses of your average Thanksgiving, the family also indulges in a "talent night." Each family member shares a particular talent, be it a song, a dance, a poem or some off-the-cuff acting.

The youngest of the family, including siblings and cousins, represent the arrival of the pilgrims to the New World and how they were helped by the Native Americans.

"We do not use fancy costumes representing that time. Instead, we use something very simple that we can make, but (it is) very representative and original," added Yvonne.

As part of their celebration, they also adopted the song "This Land Is Your Land."

"Our father helped us with the guitar and all of us, after dinner, sit in the living room and sing the song.

"We feel that this is also now our land," Yvonne explains.

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