My first Thanksgiving in America was very different from anything I had experienced before. Being born and raised in Mexico, I had never heard about Thanksgiving, much less the history of the Pilgrims who started the tradition in 1621.
Fast forward to 2002, when I was in the third grade and found myself coloring a picture of a turkey wearing a black pilgrim hat. Everything about Thanksgiving seemed different to me.
I remember my teacher, Ms. Gonzales, who wanted to treat all of us to pumpkin pie on the last day before Thanksgiving break. According to her, pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving must.
When she made the announcement, all my classmates were excited. As for me – even though pumpkins originated in Mexico – I didn’t realize you could make a pie out of them. Actually, at that point in my life, I had never even eaten a pie. The only time I ever ate pumpkin anything was in Mexico when my mom would buy us dried pumpkin seeds which were covered in salt and chili powder. But, since everyone was excited, I figured I’d give it a try.
Soon after, everyone received a small square of pumpkin pie, topped with whipped cream. I just gave a yucky face. I didn’t even like how it smelled. And when I tasted it, I knew I hated Thanksgiving (or at least I thought I knew)!
For the next few days, I was sad. I didn’t know if I could continue living in America if I couldn’t connect with such an important holiday. I felt like I didn’t belong.
Then Thanksgiving came and my family went to dinner at my uncle’s house. I didn’t really care what we ate, I just knew I wasn’t going to try pumpkin pie ever again. Looking back, I don’t even remember what we ate that night. But what I do remember is more important.
I remember looking around and seeing my family – my uncles, my aunts, my dad, my mom, my cousins, and my siblings – all sitting around the table. We talked. We laughed. We poked fun at each other. We had fun. We were together. That’s when I realized just how special Thanksgiving is.
While coloring turkeys and eating pumpkin pie are nice traditions to include, the real purpose of Thanksgiving is to give thanks and to take the opportunity to be with the ones you love. As a Mexican immigrant, the sense of belonging is what was most familiar about the holiday.
And while I still don’t like pumpkin pie (and apparently neither do 21% of the people who took this least-favorite-Thanksgiving-foods-survey) I enjoy Thanksgiving every year, because it means I get to spend time with my family. And that is something I am thankful for!