Guest post by Dora Marie Williams, CHC Student Assistant
With Thanksgiving approaching, the smells of baked turkey, mom’s mashed potatoes and grandma’s stuffing will soon fill houses around the nation. However, if you happen to be Cuban the smells might be a little different. When Cuban refugees flocked to the U.S. they brought with them their culture, and the combination of U.S. and Cuban customs resulted in some very interesting traditions, especially when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner.
Frijoles negros and boniato dulce are some of the dishes listed in a church’s Thanksgiving event menu from November 24, 1966 found in the Alberto Cuartas collection. The traditional pumpkin and apple pie is replaced by flan or tres leches, which is always mouth-wateringly good. In Little Havana Blues: A Cuban American Literary Anthology edited by Virgil Suárez and Delia Poey, Richard Blanco remembers that “…there was always pork… and black beans, yucca con mojito and fried plantain chips,” as well as the first time his parents agreed to make a turkey for Thanksgiving, which his grandmother unenthusiastically prepared (29).
I remember as a young girl hearing the story of my grandparents’ first Thanksgiving in the United States and until this day I cannot retell it without laughing. My grandparents emigrated from Havana in April of 1966. My grandfather was an accountant, my grandmother a stay-at-home-wife and my mother and aunt were no older than three years old. My grandparents were living in a one bedroom apartment on Flagler Street and could not afford a turkey for Thanksgiving. Being the crafty and ingenious person that my grandmother is, she noticed that the neighbors had a chicken that every so often roamed the neighborhood. On the day before Thanksgiving my grandmother lured the chicken into the apartment and the rest is history, Thanksgiving history.
Cuban-American Thanksgiving dinners have something in common with all other celebrations of this holiday: family. Family is a huge part of the holidays and of Cuban and American life in general. On Thanksgiving Day the family comes together and the house is filled with warm wishes, chitter-chatter and love. Whether your family watches the Macy’s Day Parade, Thursday night football or plays dominoes and catches up on el chisme, as far as I’m concerned you’ll be having a great Thanksgiving.