Once shunned by my Muslim family, the bird finally found a place in our home, just like so many American traditions
My Pakistani and American Muslim social circles celebrate Thanksgiving each year alongside our Eid festivities and Super Bowl Sunday parties, featuring homemade guacamole dip, chips and samosas. But it wasn’t always like this. For my family, this marriage between East and West was three decades in the making.
The 1980s: An “Amreekan Holiday”
As a child, I often asked my mother what we were eating for Thanksgiving.
“Food,” she replied matter-of-factly.
“Are we eating a turkey?” I asked.
“No, only Amreekans eat turkey.”
Any immigrant or child of immigrants understands that “Amreekan” is a code word for “the mainstream,” which really means “white people.” In addition to celebrating Thanksgiving with a turkey, here are some other things we learned only “Amreekans” do:
- Wear shoes inside the home
- Receive “time out” as a valid form of punishment for unruly behavior
- Talk back to elders
- Have sex before marriage
- Put grandparents in senior homes
- Sleep over at friends’ homes
- Christmas trees
- Cable television
- Shop at stores other than Ross, K-Mart, outlet stores, Marshalls and Mervyns (RIP)
Now, I don’t begrudge my parents their position toward turkey. It’s a confounding bird for most immigrants, who are generally more comfortable with the bleats of a goat or a lamb, the squawks of the simple-minded chicken. The turkey was an enigma: a heavy, feathered bird with its “gobbledygook” mutterings, freakish red wattle and vast supply of dry, juiceless meat.
“Do the Amreekans realize it is dry?” ask my still perplexed relatives living in Pakistan. “Where is the masala? The taste? The juices? Why do they eat this bird?”
Besides, most first-generation immigrants in America retain the romantic, deluded concept that “We will eventually go back home to the Motherland.” They will never be “Amreekan.”
Of course, they never do go back and instead firmly plant their familial, cultural, economic, religious and political roots in this foreign yet welcoming “Amreekan” soil. They have second-generation kids — yours truly — who are as “Amreekan” as apple pie, burritos and biryani.
And so Thanksgiving traditions began to leak into our old-school immigrant mentality. I watched the annual Macy’s parade, hoping to see a Spider-Man float. I played Super Mario on my Nintendo and looked forward to spending the evening with Snoopy, Linus, Charlie Brown and the gang, all the while eating a traditional Pakistani dinner. No turkey — yet.
The ’90s: Introducing the Thanksgiving Chicken
In my teen years, I discovered hair in new places and found the courage to demand authentic “Amreekan” requests from my parents.
“Give me turkey, woman!” I once commanded my mother for the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities.
“Here’s some money. You buy it and make it yourself if you like it so much,” she replied.
Foiled again. She knew my inherent culinary uselessness and overall laziness far too well. Well played, Mother. Well played. Continue reading