Thanksgiving produces mixed emotions for me. Having grown up Chicano, in El Paso, Texas, the holiday carried considerable cultural baggage for me: the rampant celebration of gluttony, the Dallas Cowboys, America’s corporate franchise, always playing on the tube, the constant consumerism and, of course, the slaughter of Native Americans. And then there was my mother. When we lived in Mexico, we obviously did not celebrate Thanksgiving, so I have no early childhood memories of this particular holiday. When we moved to the states, my mom had a lady who made the best tamales and mole, I have ever eaten. So initially, we celebrated Thanksgiving in our way — the way I’d always known.
Sometime in my adolescence my mom became a fundamentalist Christian. I abhorred this sect from the very outset. I found their rituals, primitive: speaking in tongues, meeting in store-fronts, fire & brimstone, the rapture – coming very, very soon. And when I went away to college and matured into my progressive political views, I despised their unabashed right-wing politics. Needless to say, none of this played well with my mom.
In high school, I would always goad my mother about politics, religion, culture; pretty much anything incendiary that would ignite a fire-storm between us. These dramas took on heightened intensity on holidays like Thanksgiving, when my mother wanted everthing to proceed just so. So, many of my memories of Thanksgiving revolve around the interactions with my mom.
My mom adopted, not only the rituals of Christian fundamentalism, but the cultural affects as well. Instead, of mole and tamales, we got mashed potatoes and gelatin. When I visited from college and the “gringo food” was served I would storm into the kitchen, fry up some beans, warm up rice and dig out the salsa. I would set them down and exclaim, this is our food and we should celebrate the holiday with our food, (the turkey is ironically – our food – a New World bird). I did not goad my mother, but I did ask her why we had to eat mashed potatoes when beans and rice were so much healthier. And besides, “it is our food.”
I’ve mellowed considerably as I have become a parent. The curse, “may you have kids like yourself” has come to bite me in a big way. If I were celebrating Thanksgiving with my folks in El Paso, I would still pull out the home-made salsa, the tortillas, beans and rice, but instead of berating my mother, I would give her (and my dad) a big hug and a kiss and say, “I”m so very happy to be here. I love you.” And then we would retire after the meals and root for who-ever was playing the Cowboys.