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Birria and Pumpkin Pie

Growing up I loved Thanksgiving. My dad worked in maintenance and my mom worked in a jeans factory so they never really had a restful four day weekend. As I got older and learned the origins of Thanksgiving, saw poverty around me, then sprinkle on some seasonal depression on top, and Thanksgiving was hard. I was always sad. There was also another reason why I was so sad. As a kid, my parent’s employers would give them a turkey for Thanksgiving. Remember when companies still did that? Every year, my parents would defrost that big ass bird, chop it up, drown it in chiles and spices, and make turkey birria. My mom would have to stay up late and wake up early to prepare this meal. We had tortillas, rice, and beans to go with it. It was delicious but not what I wished we had. I grew up watching shows, movies, commercials that showed the dad carving a turkey and at the end everyone had pumpkin pie, THAT was Thanksgiving.

I am the oldest of three and by the time I was 15, I decided Thanksgiving would be my thing. I loved to cook and I wanted to have an American Thanksgiving. I made everything from the Turkey to the mashed potatoes, I made desserts, and we bought store made pies. Until I left home as an adult Thanksgiving was my favorite.

Fast forward 25 years and here I am, with my Japanese Mexican American babies, trying to hold on tight to our traditions. Getting as many recipes from my family as possible. Trying to remember the difference between a guajillo and a California chile, when to use cilantro and when to use mint in soups. I miss our turkey birria and sometimes I crave it. It now takes conscious effort, to incorporate our culture and traditions into holidays, and that makes me sad. Will my kids roll their r’s, will they know how to rip their tortilla into fourths and scoop up their food? I worry about these things. Do you?

It is up to us to keep our traditions alive. For me that means making new ones. One year we even made sweet red bean and condensed milk tamales. I look forward to next year. God willing, we will all be able to be together and eat some turkey birria and pumpkin pie.

What did your Thanksgiving look like as a child?