My family and I flew to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s parents and family. My father-in-law was born and raised in Weslaco, Texas before moving to Alaska before my husband was born (over 30 years ago). Most of his family (2 brothers + 2 sisters and their families) still live in or within a short drive of their south Texas hometown.
Because there were so many congregating for Thanksgiving (around 30), the Gonzalez family rented a 5,000 sq foot ranch in Smithville which would serve as the “home base” for the better part of the week. I was extremely nervous, anxious, excited for the trip – I had yet to meet my father-in-law’s family (not a single person!). My husband and I had a very small wedding ceremony (just parents and siblings and their families) and there hasn’t been a large family event that we’ve been able to attend since we started dating or were married, so the opportunity to meet them has been limited.
Meeting a spouse’s extended family can be extremely nerve-wracking. Throw in the fact that I am an Italian, New York City girl and was getting ready to spend a few days with a Mexican, South Texas family. On the surface, it’s two completely different worlds. Although my husband and his dad have introduced me to many Mexican traditions and foods over the years, I knew this would be completely different than just having guacamole or chorizo. I was excited to experience a holiday with the Gonzalez family, but I was worried that I would stick out like a sore thumb and feel a bit out of place.
For most of my life, I’ve experienced a traditional Italian Thanksgiving. Appetizers consisting of hot and dry sausage, fresh mozzarella, spinach squares, stromboli, rice balls and potato croquettes, a first course involving eggplant parmigiana and lasagna, turkey and ham course with an Italianized version of stuffing (rice with mozzarella and sausage) and breaded broccoli, and dessert including cheesecake, coffee crumb cake, seven layer cookies, assorted pastries and biscuits, and espresso. On top of the food, there’s a sense of comfort in knowing what to expect and how the day progresses – I grew up immersed in the Italian culture so holidays filled with Italian customs is all I’ve known.
This Thanksgiving (in addition to the turkey and ham), we had chips and homemade salsa, freshly made tomales, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, and a whole table of traditional Mexican desserts including Mexican sweet bread (besos), Mexican wedding cookies (pan del polvo), and Mexican gingerbread cookies (marranitos). So the food was obviously different. Part of the morning was spent feeding the Texas Longhorns and black cows that resided on the home’s property and the afternoon hours were occupied with skeet shooting. Very different from my usual Thanksgiving day routine on Staten Island. There was also strong accents, an occasional word, phrase, or sentence in Spanish, and a discussion about something relating to the Mexican culture that I could not relate to.
Yet, despite all of these differences, there were points during the day when I forgot that I was in Texas, away from my family, and sharing a holiday with my Mexican family as opposed to my Italian family. The things listed above are the obvious differences. But, what amazed me was that there were so many little things that reminded me of my family and the culture I was accustomed to.
Most of the early afternoon was spent gathered around the large island in the kitchen while various family members put the finishing touches on their contribution to the meal. There was an endless amount of loud laughing and story-telling while appetizers were eaten and food was sampled. Later in the evening, the whole family congregated in the family room to watch the UT vs. Texas A&M football game (most of the family are UT fans, but there were quite a number of Aggie fans present). The intensity of cheering and yelling reminded me of my family during a Yankees/Red Sox game. On Friday, I was taken into the kitchen with several of the other females and learned how to make authentic, homemade tomales (something my husband is very happy about)! I learned a recipe that has been passed down 4 or 5 generations!
|Observing and taking copious notes!|
My husband and I barely held our son during the week because there was always someone offering to follow him around the house as he explored or wanting to hold him or play with him. It reminded me so much of how my family is with him – and as a mom, I feel we all want our children to be loved and given attention – especially when they are so young. It made me so happy to see him happily get passed from one family member to the next.
It was obvious how important family is in the Gonzalez clan. Someone in the family set up a table in the living room in memory of my husbands grandparents – the candles remained lit all weekend long.
The entire family was there for the holiday and many days after – there was no place anyone had (or wanted) to be. The remainder of the days were filled with playing board games, pool, soccer and football, swimming in the pool, singing, dancing, storytelling around the campfire, and eating.
I left with priceless memories that I will cherish forever – and am anxiously looking forward to our next visit to Texas!