Thanksgiving is a time to show gratitude for our lives, our friends and family, and for what we have. With that said, that doesn’t mean that everything we’ve been taught about Thanksgiving is factual. In fact, a lot of folks don’t realize that a lot of the traditional foods that are eaten at American Thanksgiving dinner like turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin, actually come from Latin America. It’s time to acknowledge the influence our culture has had on this holiday. Here’s a look at a few foods you might be eating this Thanksgiving that actually comes from Latiniad.
Turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving dinner table. This large bird happens to be native to the Americas, which includes Mexico. The domestic or wild turkey is native to the forests of North America, where the Mayas first domesticated it in Mexico. The ocellated turkey, another species of the bird, is native to the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as parts of Guatemala and Belize.
Pumpkin is synonymous with Thanksgiving. We use it to decorate our homes and make delicious holiday dishes, such as pumpkin pie. But pumpkin is actually puro Latino. This winter squash is believed to have originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago, and the oldest seeds were excavated from a cave in Oaxaca dating from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Many Thanksgiving dinners will include a delicious corn side dish. Corn as domesticated in Mexico about 10,000 years ago. Because of that, we now have delicious tortillas, tamales, and elote, as well as creamed corn, cornbread, and corn casserole.
We are taught to associate potatoes with Idaho and Ireland, but they are actually native to Peru and Bolivia. In fact, the word “potato” appears to be a mashup of the Quechua papa, and the Taino batata (a word they used for their sweet potatoes in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean countries). There are currently over 3,500 varieties of potato in Peru.
It’s almost time to dig into that green bean casserole or add some green beans to your dish overflowing with turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry, and more. You’ll probably have a new appreciation for the veggie knowing that it, too, comes from Latin America. Green beans are said to have originated in Central and/or South America, while some say specifically Peru. These beans were domesticated in both Peru and Mexico, by Indigenous peoples thousands of years ago.
After we’ve stuffed ourselves with endless plates of Thanksgiving delights, then it’s time for dessert. Most folks have no idea that pecan pie comes from Latinx culture. Pecans hail from Northern Mexico and the Southern United States. Fun fact: the pecan tree is the state tree of Texas.
Thanksgiving is an epic showdown of savory and sweet. On the sweet side is sweet potato, which you will see on Thanksgiving tables in the form of sweet potato casserole, sweet potato pie, mashed sweet potato, and candied sweet potato. This Thanksgiving staple is said to be Indigenous/Latinx in origin. Sweet potatoes, also known as camotes or batatas, are thought to have originated in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, down to Central and/or South America, although they could have arrived in South America from Polynesia.
You might start your Thanksgiving feast with some appetizers, soup, and salad. And, if you’re having a salad, there’s a good chance delicious, juicy tomatoes will be making an appearance in this freshly-mixed dish. Although the tomato instantly make us think of Italy, it is another food we can thank Latin America for. The wild ancestor of the tomato originated in the Andean region of South America, while the Aztecs in modern-day Mexico were the first to domesticate it. In fact, they gave the tomato its name, the Aztec tomatl became the Spanish tomate, which in turn became the English tomato.
Yes, vanilla. Americans love themselves some vanilla and it’s been around in this country for ages. Many will no doubt add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to accompany their pumpkin or apple pie this Thanksgiving. But did you know it’s actually native to South and Central America and the Caribbean? The plant from which vanilla is derived was cultivated by the Totonac of what is today Mexico. The country produced the majority of vanilla up until the 19th century when vanilla was exported and grown in other countries (including Madagascar and Indonesia, the current largest producers in the world).