A Different Thanksgiving

On Growing Up and Not Going Home

In an age of radically changing pop-culture phenomena, technological breakthroughs, and economic downturns, I find it’s becoming increasingly difficult to rely on anything staying constant from year to year. By next November, my top-of-the-line iPhone will be antiquated, I won’t know any of the hot, new musical artists winning MTV Video Music Awards, and the entire first-world economy might have collapsed. Thanksgiving, of all things, has emerged as one of the last vestiges of traditions I can count on in the modern world. Whether that tradition involves watching the Lions or Cowboys play football, stuffing your face with turkey and mashed potatoes, or tuning in to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we can all take comfort in a reliable sameness–despite whatever else is happening in the world.

I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area to a relatively prototypical American family (yes, despite being half-Guatemalan, half-Chinese) that celebrated secular holidays with gusto. No matter where I am during this time of year, I make it a point to pack my bags and make the journey back home to spend Thanksgiving the same way we have forever. This is the one day a year when the Chinese half of my family gets together to feast on a hybrid of classic Pilgrim fare and miscellaneous Asian dishes like Chow Mein and Sticky Rice (nothing more American than putting stuffing and egg rolls on one plate). Every year, I know exactly what to expect at this event: a couple of uncles will be sure to make inappropriate jokes, some cousins will be socially awkward, and most of the aunts will spend the night gossiping about the younger generation. It’s rote, but I’ve begun to look forward to the predictability of it all. I’ve discovered that it is possible to get nostalgic before turning 30, and that I don’t mind it a bit: Thanksgiving has weaseled its way to the top of my holiday heap.

It’s probably obvious but I’ll say it anyway: when it comes to holiday traditions, I’m slightly allergic to change. And unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, things are different for me this Thanksgiving. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past year or so, and have been dating a native Angeleno for almost the same amount of time. This year, I’m not grappling with the simple question of whether I should make the six hour drive to NorCal or go for the more costly but time efficient hour-long flight. New questions have begun to swirl: do I bring my significant other with me to meet the family? Am I obligated to attend her family’s festivities? Or, do we both break off from the old traditions and start a new one of our own?

My girlfriend made the choice to start a new one, and is set on staying in L.A. this Thanksgiving while her family goes out of town. So, I was left with the decision to spend Thanksgiving with her, or to make my way to the Bay Area once again and leave her alone in L.A. Either way, I’d be eating turkey with a side of guilt.

As an aspiring filmmaker who has been working non-stop for a year and a half, I’ve already done an extremely good job of neglecting my family. Over and over again, I justified my actions with the knowledge that we’ll always have Thanksgiving. This one weekend had the potential to make up for the missed phone calls, the terse email exchanges, and the trips they made to see me that resulted in brief “Hellos” and “Goodbyes.”

But leaving my girlfriend alone in L.A. for Thanksgiving doesn’t feel like the right thing either. We’re both in school and rarely have time off. This is a chance for me to be there when she needs me. And if I go home this year, I’ll only be postponing the inevitable breaking away. Neither choice is the right one (and there’s something weirdly adult-like about that), but I’m doing what feels right to me right now. I’ll be staying here in Los Angeles with my girlfriend.

I adore my family and the sense of home we create for one another. But after all, my family’s old traditions, at one point, were new ones. To be honest, I’m still not sure if I’ve made the correct decision, or if there even is one, but I’m starting to get excited about the idea that this Thanksgiving will be different from every other year. Plus, if worst comes to worst, there’s always Christmas!

Ryan Velásquez is a directing fellow at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.

*Photo courtesy of Jvstin.


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