11/28/13 — International residents share Thanksgiving, too

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International residents share Thanksgiving, too

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on November 28, 2013 12:10 AM

While shoveling mashed potatoes onto his plate, Fernando Tacuri had a question.

On Monday night, the Ecuadorian Mount Olive College student experienced his first Thanksgiving, and he wanted to know the cultural basis for the holiday. So he asked.

"Just eat and say grace," an American student obliged. Pilgrims were mentioned at some point.

Satisfied, Tacuri started eating and said grace.


Across Wayne County, international transplants have taken different approaches to the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Some might not know the "why" of the holiday, but the "how" is definitely cross-cultural -- give thanks for what you have and keep eating until you enter a food coma.

What you decide to eat, however, can vary quite a bit from culture to culture. In most households, turkey seems to be the mainstay, but international residents add cultural flair to the traditional bird.

Carmelita Abad of the Philippines prepares the normal cranberry sauce and turkey but also roasts a full hog usually wrapped in banana leaves. It's a way for her to keep the old cuisine alive while adopting a different custom, she said. And besides, it's delicious.

"The kids love it so much," she said. "To me Thanksgiving is important, to give thanks for what we have. When I got here, it makes sense. So why not?"

Roxana Castor, of Peru, also keeps the turkey, but she adds some Peruvian spice to the mix, literally.

While many Americans leave their turkeys relatively unembellished, Mrs. Castor adds salt, pepper, vinegar, soy sauce, rosemary, oregano, thyme, orange juice and special Peruvian chili peppers.

Her favorite dishes to prepare, however, have to be Thanksgiving desserts.

"I love to serve pumpkin pie," she said.

Moses Ebert of Haiti doesn't have much time to prepare a Thanksgiving meal. The Haitian-American works seven days a week at Butterball working with the birds that will be the main course for millions of Americans this November.

But that doesn't stop him from enjoying turkey himself. At the beginning of the week, he cooks two turkeys the Haitian way and eats them throughout the week.

He would eat them with his family, but his three children and his wife are in Haiti where he sends part of his income, and sometimes, his Black Friday purchases.

Meihua Lin and her family, originally from China, have forgone the turkey, and in a way, the entire holiday of Thanksgiving.

"You want to eat turkey, but no one knows how to make it," she said.

"For us, it's very different. The only day the Chinese restaurant closes is Thanksgiving."

The one free day means a time for weddings, but if there is no wedding to go to, her family celebrates with a customary Chinese hot pot meal.

During a hot pot meal, individuals gather around a simmering pot of broth, and they dip meats and vegetables. All the cooking is done by the one simmering hot pot at the table.

Other customs for the Lin family during Thanksgiving are playing Mahjong, doing a little drinking and maybe a little friendly familial gambling. The end of the day, however, is spent fulfilling a truly American tradition, going shopping for cheap deals.

Thanksgiving, however, isn't the only holiday that receives the cross-cultural treatment. International residents bring their own holidays from their own countries of origin onto American soil.

For Mrs. Castor, she celebrates "Peru Day" at the end of October when everyone else is dressing up for Halloween. Peruvians dance and sing Peruvian music in celebration of their cultural heritage at parties held at homes and clubs.

For Ebert, he fondly remembers celebrating Kanaval, the Haitian equivalent of New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebration, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital city.

"Everyone gets together to celebrate. There is dancing in the streets. Everybody is dancing. No different classes dancing in the street, in the churches," he said.

And for Mrs. Lin, come the beginning of the Chinese year (sometime near the end of January, February or March), she and her family celebrate Chinese New Year. The holiday features a number of traditions, but a particular one gives Mrs. Lin a headache when the holiday rolls around -- the red packets. To give blessings of prosperity when the new year comes, Chinese people give money to other family members. And as a married woman, Mrs. Lin must give money -- gifts that could range from $50 and up -- to her children, her parents and her grandparents.


Back at Mount Olive College, Tacuri -- who is surrounded by a Mexican, a Brazilian, a Serbian and an American -- finishes his turkey and mashed potatoes. His first Thanksgiving meal has been a new experience, but he's already seen what the holiday means.

"It's an American tradition," he said. "It's what represents living here, and right now, we're living here. You got to embrace culture. It's a good idea because it brings you together."