I will never forget my mother’s famous recipe for her Thanksgiving feast – grandmother-style mashed potatoes, beef short ribs, and turkey in a mole sauce. But I will also remember all the other sides and desserts that were on the dinner table, too, including spicy sweet potato casserole, or a delicious cranberry salad, as well as pie and cookies and all the sweets and savories that our family still enjoys every year.
This recipe is part of our original tradition at our house, celebrated every year around Thanksgiving. I think we can all agree that this was the most wonderful family Thanksgiving ever. More than that, I think it’s also a symbol of our multicultural American story. I have learned since attending school at the Jesuit-run all-boys Martin Luther King Jr Academy in Washington DC that Thanksgiving is a very multi-ethnic holiday, and that our restaurant at Georgetown University serves an Italian-inspired Italian-American Thanksgiving. But despite these differences, we celebrate the day every year with the same love and gratitude.
As I sit down to write this year’s column, the usual stuffing – from a variety of source-materials such as my Irish family recipe and the new Thanksgiving staple vegan white cheddar dill bread stuffing from Open Table – are in the oven. A kale salad is a likely asparagus appetizer, possibly a cheese-covered loaf of homemade bread with homemade creamy anchovy dip, and chocolate-chip cookies will almost certainly be on the table. It’s a tradition that is part of the foundation of our family’s global identity as Americans.
Thanksgiving is part of a multi-ethnic American story. Photograph: www.juliannaedwards.com
A few years ago, after we moved to Dallas from Washington DC, my younger sister and I were walking around by the shopping mall when we saw an Asian woman selling an enormous feast at a stand. We looked at her and asked what she was serving. She replied that it was nimorajim – a deep fried Korean pancake filled with pickled red cabbage, a sour, fat and salty sauce and pickled green onions. We tried it, then they all watched as we went to our car to collect our own portions from the stands set up for our family Thanksgiving. At that point, we realized that the idea of our own multicultural Thanksgiving was not a lot different from the one her family had.
Thanksgiving is a day that many first-generation families in America take for granted and often take for granted. We take for granted knowing that over 65 million Americans will sit down with family members and feast, with all the same traditions of old school meals. We appreciate that we have food to eat, and a chance to share it with extended family. Sometimes, in this re-creative season of Thanksgiving, I can forget to take a deeper look at the meaning of this tradition. To me, Thanksgiving is a day of joy, warmth and communion with family.
Thanksgiving is a day of joy, warmth and communion with family Photograph: Paul Vados
When I look around my own family, I see families that have crossed thousands of miles of miles to be together. For some families, there are a variety of families in their extended families. For others, their roots come from the immigration of a people seeking a better life and better opportunities in our country. Today, we have experienced the power of connecting with fellow humans across national and cultural borders. We have, over the past 230 years, grown closer as a nation; our communities become more vibrant, our cultural diversity celebrated, and our country offers a chance for us to learn from each other, and to create from our collective differences a unique culture that reflects a tapestry of our history and contemporary realities.
I am thankful that we can today celebrate our diversity, as my mother always did. The varied dishes she cooked for her family at our house – from Ireland to Sweden – are a reminder of the importance of loving and respecting one another, even with some of our deepest differences, and how that commitment can build one’s family. To me, Thanksgiving is the symbol of that commitment.