By Aleisha Flores, FINDink Contributor
As a cultural anthropology minor, the concept of culture and holidays has become a point of serious thought for me. Why do we do the things we do? How do we react to different events or situations? What kind of societal norms do we adapt to? I’ve become extremely aware of how identities shape our actions.
That being said, the celebration of holidays has been an opportunity to understand my Filipino culture or analyze how we observe these holidays. Holidays based in Christianity, such as Christmas or Easter, have always been easy since their religious boundaries transcend borders. But things like Thanksgiving, a distinctly “American” holiday, have always been a little strange. Our family isn’t fully “American” so we have no reason to celebrate it, but our mentality seems to be that everyone else celebrates it, so we should, too.
The way my immediate family and extended family friends celebrates Thanksgiving now started years and years ago, when my mom and my titas were new to the United States. While Thanksgiving has been celebrated in the Philippines because of previous American rule, the tradition has largely been forgotten since Marcos was removed from office in 1986. So when they tried to go out on Thanksgiving and everything was closed except for a Chinese restaurant, they decided that maybe they should celebrate it amongst themselves. They didn’t want to be left out of what true American culture is.
As I’ve gotten older and experienced many a Thanksgiving party, celebrating the holiday still doesn’t seem so relevant to my identity as a Filipina. But to my identity as a Filipina-American, it has taken on a different meaning and context. While we can certainly acknowledge the racist, colonialist roots of Thanksgiving, and the corporate takeover that the holiday has become, there’s just something so nostalgic about it that adds to its cultural relevance here in the states. The fact that young students learn about The First Thanksgiving in school by dressing up as the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plymouth in a feigned story of peace and good harvest is something you’ll find in few other places around the world. My parents definitely weren’t thinking that would be a part of the great education they’d be giving their children in this new country.
But while those reflections are generally very negative viewpoints, they’ve shaped me. They’ve shaped my family whether or not they realize it. Coming together at Thanksgiving to eat the way Filipinos do, sharing stories and being with each other because we can’t be with our families in the homeland - that means something. The desire to conform and assimilate but still bring traditional Filipino food to the table shows our resilience as immigrants.
And when I greet my titas, titos, ninangs, ninongs, lolas, and lolos at Thanksgiving, when my cousin passes me the plate of chicken adobo followed by turkey and cranberry sauce, the understanding of our heritage comes to the surface. And I’ll remember their experiences and sacrifices in full when I say “Salamat po.”
Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.