A plate with a slice of pumpkin pie sitting on a table

An Immigrant on Thanksgiving

By Paola Bakker
Web Content Contributor

Thanksgiving is weird. I’ve lived in America for a majority of my life, since I was eight, so I’ve become pretty familiar with the holiday. My mom and I have never actually celebrated it together, though. 

“What’s the point?” my mom asked when I was a kid. She was right, it’s not like we had a bunch of family and friends coming over to eat the food she would have to work for hours on. It was just the two of us. Plus, as an immigrant from Venezuela, my mom never grew up with the holiday, so she didn’t see it as important.

A part of me always wanted that experience, coming together to eat food and pretend to be a happy non-dysfunctional family. The experiences all of my classmates would talk about.

 My fourth grade teacher would have us go around the room and talk about our favorite part of our Thanksgiving. Kids would mostly talk about the food or hanging out with their families, but when it got to me, I wasn’t sure what to say. 

“My mom and I ate Chinese food,” I said, and my teacher would smile and move on.

I don’t really know why I always grew up wanting that experience. I don’t even like Thanksgiving food. The turkey is always dry, the texture of mashed potatoes weirds me out and I don’t even really know what stuffing is. 

I do like pie, though. There’s also that whole thing that the day is based on. A meal between the Pilgrims and Native Americans that never actually happened and is actually really messed up but I won’t even get into that.

I suppose what I really wanted was not the food but that big family experience. I know most people with big families would scoff at that and tell me it’s not all that, but as an only child who came to this country with just her mom, I can’t watch family holiday movies without getting a bit sad, as if I’m missing out.

I’ve gotten small bits of this experience before. A few years ago, one of my close friends from high school invited me to come to her family Thanksgiving lunch. I knew some of her family, but considering how big her family is, I really didn’t know a lot of the people there.

Of course they were great and super welcoming, but there was still a part of me feeling like I didn’t belong, like I was just that random guest awkwardly eating all of their food.

Now as someone with my own apartment, I’ve stopped going home for Thanksgiving. Although I love seeing my mom, she’s no longer alone and is married, so it makes more sense for me to stay in town and catch up on the work I’m up to my ears in for school during my break. 

Last year was the first time I spent the holiday alone, thinking it was smarter for me to stay in town rather than drive all the way home for just a few days. I also was having issues with my mom, so I thought avoiding it altogether would be easier. 

This extreme and overwhelming feeling of loneliness hit me that Thursday afternoon. Scrolling through my feed to see everyone happy and smiling with their families that they said they were “thankful” for hit me really hard for some reason. 

I had never imagined spending the holidays completely alone before. Although my mom and I never really celebrated anything, it was still nice to be with her on those days. 

I never thought I’d still be in college and already spending my holidays by myself. I always associated that with sad thirty-something workaholics. I guess it was more common than I thought.

It’s hard growing up in a country that places so much pressure and sentimental value on a single day, meanwhile no one at home really cares. I’ve been conditioned to think that something about this day is inherently special, and if I spend it alone, that says something about me and the people in my life.

 In reality, it’s just a regular Thursday, and I can be thankful for the people in my life any time of the year.

Featured image via Creative Commons.

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