American Latinos have a very different relationship to Thanksgiving because of their unique history.
No Spanish speaking countries celebrate this holiday because they weren’t colonized in the way the United States was. America’s history created an entirely different set of cultural traditions that separate the US from Latin countries, but also brings new and diverse traditions that speak to all of our Latin cultures and roots, food being one of the main displays of that diversity.
This photo of my family at Thanksgiving pretty much says it all. We’re not fancy during the holidays, we’re not going to win any awards for taking a great family selfie, but we are going to make some great Mexican food with our turkey!
What would Thanksgiving be without tamales or enchiladas right next to the turkey at the dinner table? I remember thinking it absolutely normal to have tamales, enchiladas, empanadas and rice alongside Thanksgiving turkey, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. We usually skipped the stuffing and cornbread in favor of our own flour tortilla carbs and that was our version of Thanksgiving.
Only in my elementary and middle school years when I had some non-Latino friends over did I realize that this was not how every family celebrated the holiday. My friends loved all the different foods mixed in with their regular Thanksgiving favorites and these celebratory times created vivid memories for them of the holidays at the Trevinos’ house.
That said, Latinos of every background in the United States celebrate this day with their own Hispanic nuances which are as diverse as the Latin countries we all call home. I always tell my friends that if you are invited to a Thanksgiving celebration in a Latino home, you can expect some different food traditions beside the usual suspects of turkey, mashed potatoes and football.
For something different this Thanksgiving, several of our food fanatic contributors and I share favorite family dishes and memories of our Thanksgiving holidays.
Mom’s Everyday and Holiday Enchiladas
If there’s one dish that truly reminds me of my Mexican heritage, it’s enchiladas. This is a dish mom made for dinner quite often. Not only was it a staple of our family dinners, it was something served for special holidays when we had all the aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and comadres/compadres over. Now I know why! They are easy to make and can be made in bulk to feed a lot of people, perfect for a holiday get together.
The enchiladas are just so good. They can be made with flour or corn tortillas and with ground beef or chicken (sometimes even shrimp), but my favorite is with corn tortillas and shredded chicken.
They’ve become one of my go-to dishes for taking over to a pot-luck dinner or hosting a friends get-together or Cinco de Mayo. I even requested my mom make them for my engagement party in 2005 even in the heat of summer. That’s how much I love them!
The Ortega Family Shares Fond Memories of a Multicultural Thanksgiving
Contributor, Josie Ortega remembers that, growing up, one of her favorite Thanksgiving traditions was playing a chaotic game of Leaf Football with her brothers, cousins, and uncles, wreaking havoc on the yard and its organized piles of autumn leaves.
Thanksgiving is the story of immigrants. As we tell and retell our national legend of that first Thanksgiving feast shared by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe, we know with certainty that it was a multicultural meal.
This gives us a great opportunity to talk with our children about our country’s unique history. We’re not a homogeneous nation; our population doesn’t share a common race but does share common ideas about liberty and opportunity.
Johanna Godinez Shares her Favorite Puerto Rican Thanksgiving Dish
Life & Style Coaches founder and contributor, Johanna Godinez recalls that Pavo’chon Boricua is the recipe her mother used when she was a kid for their Thanksgiving dinner. She remembers going grocery shopping with her mom the weekend before Thanksgiving and then getting the ingredients ready a few days before the holiday to marinate the turkey. Finally, everyone in the house was up early Thursday morning to prepare the feast. Johanna says the turkey in this recipe turns out so tender that it falls right off the bone.
One of Chef Monti Carlo’s Favorite Holiday Recipes, Pastelón
Cooking Channel and Food Network personality, chef Monti Carlo credits her Pastelón, which is a Puerto Rican version of a shepherd’s pie or lasagna as the dish that wowed Gordon Ramsey. This recipe taught to her by her Abuela Dora is something she recalls being made for very special occasions. The complexity and richness of this dish’s flavors scored her a Master Chef on Fox apron from Gordon Ramsay. This humble recipe changed her life completely.
Pozole – A Perfect Palette Awakener for Thanksgiving and the Day After
Pozole has been around for centuries and can be cooked a variety of ways – white, red or green sauce, and with different protein fillings. In Alicia’s Tex-Mex culture, food is all about being tasty and satisfying.
During the height of the pandemic, Alicia’s nutritionist background pushed her to experiment with a healthier version for the holidays by adding a handful of powerful greens and chicken as the main protein. She also used some updated research on “foods to boost mood” for continued well-being, life outlook and staying positive. Sounds like a perfect dish for the holiday season!