Thanksgiving Pilgrim Style: Surviving My Racially Blended Family Dinners

November 21, 2012  |  

Source: Shutterstock

By Jada Gomez-Lacayo

At its core, Thanksgiving is meant to be a holiday devoted to the convergence of traditions, but we all know the actual occasion was a lot more tumultuous than history’s popular flowery retelling of events. The truth is Native Americans shared maize while dinner guests (New England colonists) brutally conquered and destroyed their lands. But rest assured your Thanksgiving feast, no matter the racial breakdown, can only go up from there. In fact, it’s probably safe to say things won’t get much rowdier than a drunk uncle – eventually.

Holidays can get tense when families come together period (peep the issues we talked about yesterday) and thanks to my racially unorthodox family, the holidays at my house couldn’t be any more different. My family unknowingly provided me with lifelong lessons that would not only shape my opinions on race, but also taught me how to make everyone comfortable with one basic thing, laughing at themselves. Honestly, the best way to enjoy the holidays without ruffling any ethnically sensitive feathers (pun intended) is to simply have fun with it.

Obviously, my family and I weren’t joining hands and singing “We Are The World” from the start. Even when I was very young, I sensed the uncomfortable vibes at early family gatherings. I noticed that the elders in my family had to make the most adjustments, and were subsequently the ones who transformed the most. My Abuela barely spoke English when I was a child, and she was just getting accustomed to the fact that all of her sons would not marry Puerto Rican women, as she had hoped, when I arrived. Her husband was a Puerto Rican Nationalist, and their children would be slapped for speaking English in the home. Talk about an adjustment when her youngest granddaughter at the time turned out to be a curly haired, bronze-toned girl who didn’t like pernil.

My other grandma, an African American woman who grew up in Harlem, was just as weary of her new relatives, often remarking, “That woman doesn’t like me. She’s always speaking Spanish when I come around!” Of course she’d never mention this until non-African American family members pulled out of the parking lot, and she could confide in the safe confines of her side of the family. Regardless, I was keenly aware of the awkwardness and innately became a mediator because I desperately wanted these two women whom I loved deeply to love each other just the same. But while there may have been a huge language barrier, one thing was universal: they both loved good food. Abuelita cooks a pot of rice that’s yet to be duplicated, while my granduncle on the other side who was an army chef during World War II has a Mississippi-bred ribs recipe that is still uncontested. Quickly, I caught on to that and became a non-driving valet of sorts at the front door. I would run as quickly as my 3-year-old legs would allow to the kitchen to tell my granduncle that Abuela had arrived with her castor iron pots, signaling a delicious pot of rice was on the way, and I’d let Abuela know as soon as there were ribs on the premises. Eventually nobody’s language, skin color, or nationality mattered.

Two decades later, as new nationalities and cousins made it to the dinner table, like my Italian aunt who makes us a newer version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, our family racial dynamic has become far less relevant. Laughter and loud chatter now fill those tense moments of the past, and instead we embrace the stereotypes we used to whisper, like:

“She’s the lightest thing in the house.”


“Let me return this baby to her mother so the cops don’t think I kidnapped her.”


“You know Puerto Ricans sleep with everyone.”

What we learned is the best way to dispel the differences was to just confront them head on, and honesty — and liquor — made our family gatherings unique and memorable instead of uncomfortable and unforgettable for the wrong reasons. Most importantly, the diversity at the dinner table affected each of our interactions outside of our home, making us more accepting of all nationalities.

If there will be new family members at your dinner table this holiday season, it’s probably not the greatest idea to start with the upfront, “you know all ____ do ____” talk right away, but if there’s ever an opportunity to have a light laugh about an unfamiliar tradition from a member of the family that’s different from yourself, now would be the time.

How do Thanksgiving dinners with your racially blended families usually turn out?

Jada Gomez-Lacayo is the Entertainment Editor for Follow her on Twitter at @JadaGomez.

*Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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  • La-Di-Da

    My fiance’s family is Portuguese and we’ve had many meals and a few holidays together. There’s no awkwardness at all but I think I’m just a very adaptable person in general. I enjoy learning about other cultures.

  • Cristina

    When I introduced my fiancé to my family for the first time two Thanksgivings ago, I thought everything was going smoothly. That is until I realized that my fiancé is a college football man and my family are all pro football fans. At the suggestion of one of my coworkers from DISH, we got a Sling Adapter which helped them get past their differences last Thanksgiving. We downloaded the free DISH Remote Access app so that my fiancé could watch his college football games live on his iPad while my family watched pro football on the TV. I think the best part is that my fiancé was able to share why he likes college football with some of my brothers, and they’ve been establishing relationships with each other ever since!

  • maggie

    Why do I always have to read about different races on a black website so much? I know that there is racial mixing but how many times do we have to discuss this? Other races do not claim us–even when we show up at the thanksgiving dinners!

    • Yah

      okkkk…now THIS I totally agree with! Black people always have to talk about different races – white people do not talk about that so much. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing.

    • Ms_Sunshine9898

      RME, because not all black people are just black, and if this is a website for black women, then women who are black and other races should have an outlet or a place to discuss their personal experiences just the same as women who are only black. the black experience is not the only experience in the black community smh. . .

  • love_myhubby

    My husband is white we and we used to spend out Thanksgivings at his grandparents house but since we live in Hawaii now we usually spend them alone or with friends!!

  • yes, we always have a good time together. we don’t look at each other for differences. we’re family, and see each other all year round and not just special occasions.

  • J A SASSY aka salon22w

    Oh please gtfoh.. i am black my family is black and for years we have had great familt Thanksgiving dinners.. with great food, games , loving family talks, sharing family albums , taking pictures and basically having a great time.. no fighting or fussing.. not all blk families have conflict.. plus i saw where one w family had a stabbing at the dinner table.. so lets dont even go there!

    • Kay

      Lol the stoy wasn’t about black families… If you would have read you would have found out.

  • ANTMilf

    My fiance is white and I go to his family’s house for Thanksgiving for 4 years now and they’re real cool people, I remember the first year I was nervous to meet his the rest of his family and surprisingly, his grandparents, aunts and cousins gave me a hug and have great conversations there. There were some arguments between his father and his uncle over a football game but it ain’t compared to my family who fights and the dinner ends in police coming over.

  • get real

    How about “how do Thanksgiving dinners with your same race ususally turn out” “how does Thanksgiving go with your same race in laws”. Of course the pic is black family with a Puerto Rican man as the black woman’s mate. Smh. The MN bed wenches continuing the non blk men worship.

    • Kay

      This story is about a puerto-rican and black women an her family so of course the picture would depict that