At Thanksgiving the motto is “the more the merrier.” With food-laden tables and everyone clamoring for the last slice of pumpkin pie, it’s hard to imagine the fourth Thursday in November without friends, family, and turkeys, but for more than 40 million people in the U.S., Thanksgiving was not always a focal point of their fall holiday programming.
By Jessi Devenyns
Viewing Thanksgiving through an immigrant family’s eyes offers a different perspective of a very American holiday. With its focus on sharing and bringing people together, Thanksgiving represents an ideal backdrop for examining the influence that modern immigrants have had – not just on the dialogue surrounding the holiday, but also on the food that is enjoyed.
With their kaleidoscope of flavors and traditions, those who did not grow up stateside have sprinkled, marinated, and topped the table with twists on traditional staples for centuries. From ancho chile-rubbed turkey to pumpkin flan, different ethnic traditions surrounding Thanksgiving are almost as old as the holiday itself.
“We never had a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner,” said Ron Grobman, owner of Tactical Fitness. “Usually it’s a mix of traditional American food – the turkey, the cranberry sauce, and all that stuff – and then Russian and Israeli food.”
Grobman, who grew up in Austin, explained that his parents migrated to the United States from the Soviet Union via Israel where he was born. They use the holiday as an opportunity to prepare some of the traditional Eastern European food that defines their roots while also celebrating the American holiday with loved ones. “It’s good that people go see their family, especially in the U.S., where people like to live very far from their family,” said Grobman. Particularly for those like his parents who don’t have family close by, America’s turkey-centric holiday is ideal for a social gathering. “They’re always looking for a reason to see their friends, especially since they don’t have family here and also their friends don’t have family here,” he said. “It’s nice people actually take the time to see their family. Family seems less important in the U.S. [because] people are more focused on their jobs and move away, whereas everywhere else in the world people stay with their family. … So it’s nice to see people take those two days out of the year to go see their family.”