Turkey and jalapeños at bicultural Thanksgiving
Arizona Daily Star
Nov. 24, 2008

My opinion Maria Elena Salinas

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/268334

One of the best things my parents did for my sisters and me as we were growing up was teach us to embrace two cultures. As Mexican immigrants, they wanted to make sure we were in touch with our roots and proud of our cultural heritage, but they always reminded us that as U.S.-born citizens, we were Americans first.

Being bicultural meant, among other things, that we would celebrate holidays from both Mexico and the United States. And we did just that.

Whether it was the Fourth of July or Cinco de Mayo, the Day of the Dead or Halloween, Memorial Day or the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, our humble apartment was party central for a good part of the year and a magnet for our friends and family. But one of the most important celebrations of the year was always our Thanksgiving dinner.

My mother was the best cook ever. (Unfortunately, that's one trait I didn't inherit from her.) The menu for Thanksgiving was pretty traditional. Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cornbread and pumpkin pie. My mother did give it a twist when it came to preparing the turkey stuffing, mixing it with a Mexican flair.

All across the country on the night of Thanksgiving, there are immigrant families who give their meal a taste of their home country — after all, nostalgia and nationalism usually start with the palate. But whether they are adding hot sauce, rice and beans, yucca or mofongo, at the end it all means the same thing. It is part of the assimilation process.

For years, there has been a misconception about the way immigrants adjust to their newly adopted country. Some believe that because they speak their own language or embrace their own traditions, passing those things on to the new generations, they are not assimilating. Too often, that leads to discrimination and a rejection of immigrants, who end up being treated as invaders. But what those people don't understand is that assimilation does not necessarily mean leaving behind your culture or your language, but actually embracing a new one.

It is this belief that makes most immigrants particularly grateful during this time of the year. They understand what it means to be able to come into a country that is not their own and have an opportunity to work, make a better life for their family and become an integral part of society.

During these tough economic times, it is immigrants who have been disproportionately affected. They're among the first to lose their jobs in the construction and service industries. They're among the largest group who received subprime loans. And they could possibly be among the last to get relief.

If my mother were alive today, I'm sure she would be spending hours in the kitchen preparing a huge turkey, maybe throwing in a couple of extra jalapeños, and reminding us how lucky we are to have a job and a meal. We might even have enough for leftover turkey tacos. She would say, "Mija, demos gracias."

On StarNet: Lea a María Elena Salinas en español los viernes en La Estrella: laestrella.azstarnet.com

Contact María Elena Salinas through her Web site, www.mariaesalinas.com