Thanksgiving Day is the only day of the year that my mom shared her sacred kitchen with my dad. One of my favorite memories is waking up to the smell of turkey roasting in the oven, and the sound of the radio as people called into the Turkey Hotline. Weeks before the big day, my dad would bookmark recipes in the Joy of Cooking or cut them out of the New York Times.
We always had the Filipino classics alongside my dad’s turkey and side dishes. We spent Thanksgiving eve wrapping lumpia (eggrolls) and the morning chopping vegetables for fried rice and pancit (noodles). With American and Filipino dishes piled onto our plates, we would top everything off with delicious, buttery turkey gravy with a hint of soy sauce, of course.
When I was younger, I took the beauty of this cultural mix for granted, and it wasn’t until later that I tried to dig more into how we got here. The lack of story may have been because all of my grandparents died before I was born except my mom’s mother and (middle) namesake, who I only met once on my first trip to the Philippines when I was three years old.
My grandparents’ names were Bertie, Harley, Graciano, and Nicolasa.
My grandma Bertie grew up in Idaho and my grandpa Harley grew up in Indiana, about 30 miles from where I live today. Over several years now, my aunt has done research into our family lineage, and thanks to Mormon roots and their resource, Family Search, she has been able to trace our ancestors back to 17th Century England.
One ancestor in my great-grandmother’s line immigrated from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony aboard the Mayflower in 1620. Their son was born aboard the Mayflower while it was anchored in Cape Cod Harbor.*
My mom’s side is much more difficult to trace. The war destroyed many records in the Philippines and all that is left is the oral history. I have been trying to write down the stories she tells, especially from more recent history. Here is a snippet of her story from 1971.
“When I arrived in America, it was January. I didn’t realize it would be so cold. Your grandma brought me a winter coat when they picked us up from the airport. I saw snow for the first time. But I didn’t get sick even though I should have because I wasn’t used to the cold and snow. I learned to wear pants in America. I had always worn skirts and dresses before.”
In the last year and a half, I have taken comfort in hearing stories in the form of books and films from people whose voices in the past were hidden and now are elevated. Stories of pain and grief, but also of perseverance and resilience, family and community. Everyone has a story and history that frames and shapes them, and we often take for granted how rich and powerful those can be.
This Thanksgiving, let’s listen to each other and ask questions, especially of our elders. Regardless of the good or bad, stories teach us and give us a new kind of understanding.
*Family Search is compiled by users so information can be unverified. In many cases, though, there is documentation such as ship manifests, census records, government documents, wills, etc.