By Alex Maroño Porto
As with many other aspects of American culture, I learned about Thanksgiving through television. Growing up in A Coruña, Spain, one of my first memories of this holiday took place in the city I now call home, with Monica, from Friends, wearing a giant raw turkey, yellow sunglasses and fez hat included. I never tasted gravy and mac & cheese until I moved to Georgia as a foreign student in 2011. The roasted, homemade bird and the dozen desserts took me back to my mother’s kitchen, where two-course meals are a tradition binding our family together, a respite from the hectic routine.
Some years would pass until I celebrated my first Friendsgiving as a college student in Madrid with Sofia, Ava and Joe, who were teaching English as part of an American exchange program. It was 2019 and, surrounded by new and familiar faces, the three of us were sipping Albariño before trying another mouthwatering cake. At the time, I couldn’t understand that, away from their relatives, Friendsgiving became a pretext to support each other when the cold months were looming on this new country’s horizon.
And then I became an immigrant myself. I moved back to this country in 2021, and after spending the last Thanksgiving at my friend Eleana’s home in Ann Arbor, I found myself facing a stressful situation: It was November and I hadn’t planned anything. Thankfully, my friends Lucía, Griffin and Nikko decided to organize a Friendsgiving at their Prospect Heights apartment last Saturday, November 19, before some of their friends left to visit their families.
“Looking forward to having you all over,” wrote Nikko in the WhatsApp group. Around 8:00 pm, I opened the door of their fourth floor walk-up carrying an Italian panettone and a jar of fig jam. Probably not the most tradition-respecting choice, but I assumed most people would love the taste of that buttery bread.
Sadly, I don’t think many of the guests had room for dessert. The entrees, which included a vegan coconut curry and a corn casserole filled our stomachs quickly, along with some black wine and a variety of Brooklyn-brewed IPAs. Food, however, was not what I’ll remember from that night, but the slightly off-key performance of En el Punto de Partida with María, my roommate, or the bursts of laughter with Patricia and Albert while sitting on the wooden floor. And Lucía, always cheerful, her bluish curls bouncing around the crowded living room.
“Chosen family” is a concept born out of the LGBTQ struggle to find common joy among people with a shared experience. For those of us who left our families abroad, these relationships help us navigate the complexities of a culture that, no matter how well-known it may seem, overwhelms you at times. Without them, the precarious house of cards built on visas with expiration dates wouldn’t be left standing.
Friendsgiving has been the perfect excuse to celebrate our mutual support, one bite of Lucía’s sourdough bread at a time. And, I think, nobody was missing the turkey.