Ruben Hernandez

Feasts of friendship

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When most of us living in the United States think of November, we think of the traditional Thanksgiving holiday and dinner. The two are synonymous in the American mind.

But despite some evidence that it may have been the Spanish who organized the first Thanksgiving feasts on the soil of what is now called the United States – in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1565, and by Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate in 1598 – the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and accompanying chow-down is a foreign concept to most Latin Americans and Mexicans that comprise Latino residents and immigrants in this country.

And although it is taught in U.S. history books that the “first Thanksgiving” occurred between local Wampanoag people and English pilgrims at the site of Plymouth Plantation in 1621, the fact is that humans all over the planet have given thanks at harvest festivals for thousands of years.

More than food, more than drink, I had been taught the value of the Thanksgiving holiday lies in reuniting family and friends, and expressing gratitude for their company.

But it wasn’t until October of last year that I learned there is even a deeper value in breaking bread with complete strangers.

I received a telephone call from a staffer at the Foundation for Inter-Cultural Dialogue to attend its annual Dialogue & Friendship Dinner at the Hyatt Regency. The group was founded in Phoenix in 2004 by mostly Turkish Americans of the Muslim faith. But its membership is open to all.

I dined and rubbed elbows with Muslims, Blacks, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Bahá’í and Native Americans. It was an opportunity to share experiences with strangers who quickly became friends, and a time to learn from one another.

As a new advocate for FID’s noble mission, I welcome the My Perspective article in this edition written by the organization’s director. I also encourage you to visit to learn about the Foundation and its programs. Its members practice in many ways the organization’s motto: “Planting dialogue, harvesting peace.”

Because throwing together a U.S.-style Thanksgiving meal can be a novel concept for some Latinos, we asked Anita Mabante Leach to report on the ways Hispanics put an ethnic spin on turkey day, and write about their efforts to Latinize the American tradition. We present her article Disasturkeys with all the untraditional trimmings.

Cooking can be considered an art, but in this edition we include two articles about other kinds of Latino art. Patricia Bonn reveals the history of theater in the Phoenix Latino community since 1886, and Dan Cortez explores local Latino art offerings and explains how to buy and collect them.

I know that as we here at Latino Perspectives sit down to our respective holiday feasts, we will all bow our heads and offer gratitude for our food, faith, community, family and friends, and the good fortune we have to serve them.

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