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For Thanksgiving Hosts, Carrying On Family Traditions Means More Than Just Turkey

Laura Tsutsui
Valley Public Radio
Clockwise from upper left: Shoua Xiong; Natalie Diaz's family at one of her Thanksgiving gatherings, courtesy of Natalie Diaz; Aaron Greene; and Gena Lew Gong's family from one of her last Thanksgiving gatherings, courtesy of Gena Lew Gong.

We’re going to hear from a few San Joaquin Valley residents about how they celebrate Thanksgiving. Like most families, it’s a time for them to gather, cook, and the menu usually includes the expected turkey and mashed potatoes. But they also incorporate other cultures into their gatherings.


You can hear the five stories by listening above. Below is a bit about each person's story.


The first story is from Shoua Xiong. She’s a food science student at Fresno State, and this year, she’s splitting her Thanksgiving between her husband’s family in Fresno, and her parents in Visalia. She says that Thanksgiving happens to fall around the time when they celebrate Hmong New Year. So along with eating turkey, they use the day to carry on a Hmong tradition. Shoua says they ring in Hmong New Year by sacrificing a chicken. Then, they tie it to one end of a rope, and the other end is tied a  pole. Someone, usually Shoua’s dad, holds the chicken away from the pole, and everyone walks under that rope three times in one direction, and three times going the other direction. The ritual is for blessings and good luck.


The second story is from Jessica Massie, who is a teacher from Easton, a town just south of Fresno. She’s hosting Thanksgiving on her own, for the first time this year. She says she’s looking forward to carrying on Armenian family dishes that have been passed down from her grandma.


Following her story is Natalie Diaz. She spent this past weekend in Southern California, celebrating an early Thanksgiving, with one side of her family. Her parents are hosting another meal in the valley this Thursday and she told us about a few of the dishes she hopes they’ll make.


Another story is from Gena Lew Gong, who's a lecturer at Fresno State, a student pursuing her doctorate, and president of a non-profit. As a Chinese Japanese American, she says her friend's joke that she has the “universal Asian family.” She explained some of her family’s traditions over a plate of freshly baked persimmon cookies.


The final story comes from Aaron Greene. He’s a Fresno State student who identifies as Native American. His mother is from the Ojibwe tribe, in the Wisconsin-Minnesota area. He and his siblings now live in Fresno, but they’re keeping Native American traditions alive in their Thanksgiving meals. His sister makes a corn mush dish, and Aaron brings homemade rhubarb pie. He explains how he sees Thanksgiving adaptations as a way to grow traditions.

Laura Tsutsui was a reporter and producer for Valley Public Radio. She joined the station in 2017 as a news intern, and later worked as a production assistant and weekend host. Laura covered local issues ranging from politics to housing, and produced the weekly news program Valley Edition. She left the station in November 2020.
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