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

As the evening progresses, the family group moves to Colombian folk music, bringing together the music from the land of their ancestors and their American home.

When in Rome, do as the Romans — and when in America, do it the American way. That's what Miki Osuna learned more than 30 years ago, when she emigrated from Veracruz, Mexico, to the United States.

"We were living in Houston, Texas, my children were babies, and some young members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the neighborhood brought us a full dinner to teach us about the traditional Thanksgiving. It was something new for us," she said.

Dressed as Pilgrims and Native Americans, the young members of the LDS Church gave a turkey, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce to the Mexican family to give them a taste of the all-American feast.

"They even brought decorations so we could put them in our house," she said.

Beyond the tradition and the celebration, Miki found a whole new world with a completely new flavor.

When Miki and her family moved to Utah, the tradition continued in her family, and her youngest daughter, Beymi, is now in charge of organizing the celebration each year.

"She always reminds me how to do it. She likes to set the table and to help me in the kitchen," she said. To give the night a Mexican flavor, Beymi adds a green spaghetti made with poblano chile to go along with the traditional dishes.

Over the years, the Osuna family has grown. Through the LDS Church, Miki found a new love: Fernando Osuna, an immigrant of Spanish origin, and his three children, who now all join the Thanksgiving family celebration.

"Every year, we gather about 15 people, sometimes even more, when we add in-laws and the families of our grown-up children," she said.

During dinner the whole family takes a moment to pray and give thanks, and everyone is given a moment to express their feelings.

"When everyone is done eating we like to enjoy our time as a family. Traditionally, all our parties end with dancing, but on Thanksgiving it is just dinner and family time, maybe a board game, but nothing else, just a time to reflect and be together as family," she concludes.

"We adopted the day of Thanksgiving to thank God for bringing our families to this country," says Giovanni Spillari, who came to Utah from Guatemala. "We spend the day sharing anecdotes with friends and remember our homeland through our typical food."

That's now tradition for many Guatemalans — or "los chapines," as Guatemala natives are called. They have embraced the American tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving Day while focusing very much on the culinary hallmarks that define Guatemalan cooking.

Luis Gonzalez came to Utah from the Guatemalan state of San Marcos 20 years ago. "In Guatemala we do not eat turkey regularly, except on special occasions like New Year's dinner," he says. "But once we moved to the U.S., we celebrated Thanksgiving day with our own version of a turkey dinner," Luis explained, by accompanying it with food that is typical of his Guatamalan homeland.

At his home in Layton, Utah, Gonzalez often gathers with his friends, local chapines, to enjoy the Guatemalan dishes he enthusiastically prepares. This upcoming Thanksgiving is no exception, and Gonzalez is busy with the preparations.

"One of the most typical dishes is the 'pepin,' which is a fricassee sauce," he says. "We flavor the turkey with sesame and mild chile and add potatoes fried with olive oil and saffron." He bolsters the menu with white rice and cheese and some corn cakes stuffed with chicken and chile sauce. These are "chuchitos," which are served wrapped in a corn husk.

Another well-known Guatemalan dish from the Spanish colonial period is "fiambre," made with vegetables, sausage meat and cheeses. "It is traditional to consume it to celebrate the Day of the Dead on Nov. 1st and 2nd," he said, "but we will also be serving it for Thanksgiving this year."

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