I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family–my parents and brother. For Thanksgiving, we did not have turkey with stuffing, ham, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie.
We had Asian food: duck and chop suey and barbecue. The duck was not stuffed with breaded stuffing but was filled with sauce, a Vietnamese pho-like sauce with anise and ginger and cinnamon. For dessert there was biko, cassava cake, and ube cake (Filipino food). The only all-American foods we had were biscuits and apple pie–well, it’s not really all-American if it’s French apple pie.
We couldn’t get a turkey because our small family wouldn’t be able to finish one, and we couldn’t get a HoneyBaked ham because there were too many people buying one; we’d get a HoneyBaked ham later when the crowds cleared up.
I looked at the food on the table, imagining my friend J (remember him from my previous post?) and countless of others diving into a seemingly unlimited feast of traditional, quintessentially American viands. Why couldn’t I have that? Why couldn’t I be American like everyone else?
My cultural identity is something that I have struggled with all my life as a second-generation Filipina. I have had a difficult time defining myself as American. Throughout my life, I’ve asked myself: what’s American? How do you define American? And here was the greatest example of it. Was this an American thing to do, to eat a bunch of Asian cuisines mixed-up on an American holiday?
We said grace and then we tucked in. I was the first to get some duck. As my dad cut the duck, the pho-sauce came swirling out, flooding the tray. The duck and barbecue meat were both succulent and gently bursting with spices; the biscuits (which looked a little bit like the expected golden-brown exterior was shaved off) were chewy and soft when dipped in the pho-sauce; the chop suey proved refreshing from all the heavy fare. And the Marie Callender’s French apple pie was a crumbly melt-in-your-mouth final treat.
But I was determined not to let myself get wrapped up in the goodness of the food (like I usually do). I pondered the definition of American as I ate–throughout the whole affair, I kept thinking about the question: was this an American thing to do?
I considered that the first Thanksgiving was multicultural: it contained Native American and European traditions. And then I realized: America too is a hodgepodge, a melting pot of cultures. Here we were, eating a feast of cuisines from different cultures.
So yes, I thought, this is American–it’s just a different representation of American. And for this I am thankful.