My Venezuelan Family Doesn’t Celebrate Thanksgiving But It’s Still Special

November was always a confusing month

Venezuelan thanksgiving nontraditional

Photo courtesy of Anna Ortega

Around this time of year, many people gather around the dinner table with family. Some celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones; many rebuke the holiday altogether due to its violent history and celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. Personally for me, November was always a confusing month. My parents immigrated from Venezuela in 1997, and being Latiné, Thanksgiving has always been a difficult holiday in my household. I was born in Rochester Hills, Michigan and was raised around my parents’ group of Venezuelan friends. I would describe my early childhood as colorful and exciting, as I often felt as though they were an extended family of sorts and really enjoyed being able to grow up with that culture. To my knowledge, we never celebrated what people might consider a “traditional” Thanksgiving, but they often held small get-togethers to spend the holidays together. Most of our relatives lived in Venezuela, which is very difficult to travel back and forth from, so they couldn’t come visit and spend the holiday with us. 


While attending elementary school in Michigan, I remember learning about Thanksgiving and making paper turkeys and other Thanksgiving crafts. I never really understood the holiday as a child, and though I eventually moved from Michigan, I remember hearing my classmates discuss their families’ Thanksgiving celebrations everywhere I went. My parents and I have always had a difficult relationship since around the time we left, and most of it stems from  my father’ choices and his view on the U.S. My mom and dad were both born and raised in Venezuela, and though we used to visit every summer until I was about 8 or 9 years old, it eventually became too dangerous and too difficult. 

I noticed that my dad never used to visit with us, and the older we got, the more apparent it became to me that he often distanced himself from his Latiné identity though he was clearly a person of color. Although my parents attempted to celebrate the “traditional American Thanksgiving,” it always felt strange and forced, like putting on a stranger’s tight clothing. Unlike my classmates’ Thanksgivings, ours only really consisted of our nuclear family, a couple Venezuelan dishes like traditional pabellon and carne asada, and eventually, fights at the dinner table. My dad became a staunch conservative, and as I became old enough to understand the true nature of Thanksgiving as well as the U.S.’s horrific abuse of marginalized communities, our relationship quickly deteriorated. It became clear to me that moving to the U.S. instilled in him some sort of idea of what our family had to look like and behave like, and in his eyes, challenging him on these ideas meant disrespecting him and everything my parents had done to get us to this point. 

Growing up, I always understood how difficult it was for my parents to move to the U.S. My mom described to me many instances where they both felt discriminated against and looked down upon, and even as a child, it was hard knowing that people discriminated against my family and the culture I was so proud to be a part of. For this reason, it was even harder for me to understand why they would want to assimilate in this way and celebrate something that was born out of the suffering of the original inhabitants of this land. I am very grateful for how hard my family worked to get here and establish themselves here, but I thought it was harmful to assimilate to a system that treats people of color, especially Black and Indigenous peoples, in such a cruel manner. Aside from this, my dad could sometimes be a very mean person, and it caused a deep rift between us. He was never able to understand his hypocrisy, and my sister and I realized that this was no longer a relationship worth maintaining if there wasn’t mutual respect towards us. As I’ve grown, there’s a lot of unlearning and reflection that I’ve had to do along with my sister, and something we’ve come to realize is that my father’s insistence that we ascribe to the U.S.’s norms was born out of self-loathing and rejection. There were many instances where he mocked our family and his own ethnic features, many of which I happen to carry as well, and for many years, we felt like we weren’t good enough for him because we didn’t look and act like the White Americans he would praise and compare us to. It does make me disappointed that he could internalize so much racism in this way, but it was very difficult seeing the way it affected our home life. 

Over the years since we’ve cut him out, I’ve noticed that our home life has greatly improved; today, my family consists of my mom, her mom, my younger sister and I. My sister and I can state our beliefs and thoughts freely without fear of being punished or shamed, and my mom and grandma have become more carefree and outspoken. We can engage in these difficult discussions about the country we live in today and the ingrained racism, colorism, and homophobia in our community, and though we may not always agree with one another, we operate on the basis of mutual respect and understanding for one another. 

I will admit it still hurts a little when my friends talk about their Thanksgivings and their relationships with their dads, as we once had a wonderful relationship when I was younger. However, we did our best in trying to get him to see the wrong in his ways, and this cycle of trying to change a man who doesn’t respect you is what led to me to enter my own abusive relationship in my late teens. I have learned that attempting to change someone who is committed to misunderstanding you is a waste of time and energy, and it’s better to stick with the people who care about you, accept you for who you are, and love you unconditionally. 

My relationship with my mom and grandma has flourished during this time, and I am very proud of the way my family was able to overcome this all. We don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving anymore and instead do what is most comfortable for us. In the past couple years since cutting off my dad, we have enjoyed each cooking a special food and sharing everything at the dinner table, and it has been wonderful not feeling the pressure to conform to a holiday we don’t personally believe in or support. 

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be about the false narrative that the colonization of the Americas was peaceful; instead, it can be about spending time with your loved ones, expressing gratitude for the positive things going on in your life, and eating good food during the holidays. This year, I’m looking forward to continuing to spend time together peacefully and authentically.

In this Article

assimilation Featured Holiday traditions Holidays latine Latino Thanksgiving Thanksgiving Venezuela
More on this topic