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Celebrations of Thanksgiving: Cuban Seasonings

By Ana Menendez



Many Americans today, no less than in times past, are immigrants—or children of immigrants—who live between the culture of their homeland and the culture of their new home to which they are, sooner or later, assimilated. This story, written in 2004 by Los Angeles-born Cuban American novelist and journalist Ana Menéndez (b. 1970) shows the way a Cuban immigrant family dealt with this cultural “doubleness” around the peculiarly American holiday of Thanksgiving. The daughter of Cuban exiles, Menéndez has written four books of fiction, earning a Pushcart Prize, and has worked as a columnist for the Miami Herald

What was the original attitude of the Menéndez family toward Thanksgiving? Why did they strive to transform the holiday and give it a Cuban flavor? How successful was this effort at transformation? What happened over the years to this family and its Thanksgiving traditions—and was it inevitable? What do you make of the author’s prayer at the last Thanksgiving she recounts? Has the holiday served to make these immigrants more American? More grateful?

We called it “Tansgibin” and to celebrate, we filled our plates with food that was strenuously—almost comically—Cuban: black beans and rice, fried plantains, yucca. Back then we didn’t know enough to know we were being ethnic, much less trendy. This was simply the kind of food we ate, secure in our culinary superiority, and heirs to a long kitchen tradition that expressed everything from annoyance (“You’re making my life a yogurt”) to ubiquity (“Like parsley, he’s in all the sauces”) in terms of food. Thanksgiving, in our own small context, seemed the perfect holiday. And if we were a bit embarrassed at not having invented it ourselves, we went about transforming it with the religious zeal of people finding themselves suddenly, woefully, far from home.

Read the story online.
Return to The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day.

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