A Look at Thanksgiving in One Latino Home

Different Backgrounds Mean Different Traditions (and Different Marketing Opportunities)

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Andrew Speyer
Andrew Speyer
The season of traditions is upon us here in the U.S. The major holidays, coming one after another, often make people feel sentimental for the "way things used to be," which is rooted mostly in nostalgia but also in the practice of traditions. Traditions help us feel connected to that which came before us and make us feel part of something bigger than just ourselves. In this country, there may be no holiday that better represents the value of tradition more than Thanksgiving. Children are taught in school what the first Thanksgiving was like, and we still attempt to re-create some elements of that first celebration even now, hundreds of years later.

As Thanksgiving approaches this week, it's easy for most Americans, especially those born here, to imagine families around the country preparing for the big meal -- heading to the grocery store, setting the table, cooking the Turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and all of the rest. The whole day, and even the days leading up to it, are spent planning and cooking. At the end of all the preparations we see families sitting down to tables laden with the fruits of all these preparations.

Scenes like this are at the heart of the tradition of Thanksgiving, as well as at the heart of how grocers should approach this season. For grocery stores around the country, this is the time of year to make sure that shelves are stocked with the traditional goods and brands that they believe consumers will be looking for.

But traditions are elastic, especially in multicultural United States; not every Thanksgiving starts or ends the same way. In different parts of America, new traditions are being forged that reflect the meaning of the holiday, especially for people who may not have grown up with it.

The mother of one of my best friends is Maggie Madera, a Cuban-born grandmother who came to the U.S. as a young woman. When Mr. . Madera goes shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, the contents of her shopping cart are a bit different from those of U.S.-born celebrants. In addition to a turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, Mr. . Madera's cart is filled with dried black beans, rice, plantains, yucca and mojo. There will be a whole roast pig too, but she'll order that from a specialty shop.

At Mr. . Madera's house, where I have spent many holiday feasts, Thanksgiving consists of two dinners: One is a complete traditional American meal with all the staples prepared and served the way they might be anywhere in America. The other is a typical Cuban holiday dinner, with roast pork, fried plantains, congri, yucca, and more.

Dinner starts at around 9 p.m., at least in theory, which means that anyone who was at a more traditional meal earlier in the day will have plenty of time to make it to Maggie's house for the Cuban Thanksgiving. And coming late is no problem, it just increases your chances of seeing the larger-than-life portrait of Celia Cruz being hoisted overhead and passed around on the dance floor once the eating is done and the dancing begins.

Arriving at her house unannounced is OK too because such celebrations are "open house," with no place cards or formal seating and no worrying about who is next to whom. There is no kids' table.

For Maggie Madera and her family, and for many U.S. Latino families, this is how Thanksgiving is done, and it's the most natural way for them to spend it. Hers may not seem like a typical Thanksgiving, but in some ways Mr. . Madera's Thanksgiving -- with its stuffing and salsa music, mashed potatoes and mojo, is the epitome of what the holiday in multicultural America represents: her celebration connects her and her family to something larger, to things that came before, and in this case, two very distinct cultures.

Andrew Speyer is VP-head of strategy at Wing.
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