Turkey Tamales & Champurrado! A Farm Worker Thanksgiving

November 27, 2013 /


Pictured Above: Maria Ortiz and her grand-daughter. Photo: Maneli Ortiz/South Kern Sol

By Maneli Ortiz for South Kern Sol

I’ve always enjoyed being with my family on Thanksgiving, cooking together from early morning. My mother was a farm worker, and even though we celebrated the holiday by eating turkey and various sides, we would also always make tamales and champurrado (a hot beverage made with chocolate and corn), which we would snack on all day and night.

For many immigrant families like mine, holidays like Thanksgiving offer an opportunity to participate in a new tradition. But American holidays can also take on new characteristics when they are fused with elements of other cultures.

In the farm worker communities around Bakersfield, for example, the typical Thanksgiving meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie is often replaced by traditional foods from back home, like tamales, champurrado, and posole (a hominy soup). But what doesn’t change is the underlying reason for why people gather together: to give thanks and enjoy family.

“I enjoy the holidays because we all gather around and we usually make tamales for the whole family,” said Maria Ortiz, 52, a worker at Grimmway Farms, who attended a Thanksgiving food giveaway and raffle organized by the Dolores Huerta Foundation last Wednesday at the Arvin Veteran’s Hall.  “And the best part of making tamales on Thanksgiving Day is that we all [contribute] in the process of making them.”

Grimmway Farms usually gives out free turkeys as a Thanksgiving gift to its employees, said another worker, Jesus Rodriguez, which is then often added to traditional recipes. “We always use the turkey as the main ingredient for our posole… My wife uses it completely, and if there is any left we use [it] as stuffing for our tamales,” said Rodriguez.

Because of the demanding physical nature of agricultural work and the low pay, many farm worker families make sure to use every bit of the food they receive during the holidays, said Rodriguez. “The job is quite tiring, so my wife puts every bit of food into use.”

“It feels good to give back to the community, especially those that are in need,” said Timoteo Prado, a DHF organizer in Arvin who was at the food giveaway event. “The people who are here are mostly labor camp workers, and they came to experience an American holiday.”

Rocio Velasquez, 56, a worker, said this year will be his first Thanksgiving in the United States.  “Now that I have seen what it is all about- I actually like this holiday because it’s a time where all your family unite and enjoy that day.”

No matter where you come from or how you choose to use your turkey, Thanksgiving is a day to be with family and give thanks. So what are you thankful for?

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