Turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce; they're usually what makes a Thanksgiving feast taste right.  But for many Latinos, the meal is not complete without abuelita's best recipes.  By serving dishes like tamales, pollo, rice, and maybe even some mole, Latinos personalize this traditional American day of celebration.

Each year, thousands of families face the challenge of integrating themselves into American culture and society as they immigrate to the United States from Latin America.

Latinos say American customs sometimes take a few years to catch onto.  After all, there is no complete handbook on how to Americanize your family.

When the Sánchez family came here from Mexico, Thanksgiving was one of those new traditions they tried to embrace.

"Thanksgiving in our family was always fun cause we all get together." said Carina Sánchez. "What else would we do, we get work off."

But it wasn't until the Sánchez children began to attend school, that their family began to learn why they got a day off the fourth Thursday of every November.

"We didn't start having turkey for Thanksgiving until we as children started learning about the history of Thanksgiving in school," said Sánchez.

Her mom is an awesome cook, she said, but it took a few tries before she mastered the art of turkey-making.  

Year after year, Sánchez's mom learned more traditional Thanksgiving recipes, but still keeps a Latino flare at the table.

"My mom wouldn't know what to do with cranberry sauce." said Sánchez, "Some of us eat turkey with tortillas. It's not our fault everything tastes better with hot sauce and tortillas."

For many Latino families, this story of discovering the American Thanksgiving and integrating Latino traditions is very familiar.  

"Every family does it differently but sometimes I make chicken because my family doesn't like turkey as much," said Paula Barrionuevo of Argentina.

Latinos say keeping their own Thanksgiving culinary traditions isn't the only way they personalize the holiday.  They also personalize their celebration of gratitude.

For example, Ana Burgos of Colombia said that in her family, they start celebrating at the beginning of the month.  This year she had her kids write the things they were thankful for on a board to display in their home for all the month of November.

"You kind of have to learn it and adopt it and make your own changes as you see it fit in your family and that's what we've done," said Burgos.

Many say they're thankful for the reason they got introduced to Thanksgiving in the first place: coming to the United States.

"I'm thankful for being in this country.  That's for sure," said Barrionuevo.

Angela Santos is a freelance journalist in Utah. 

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