Larissa Dragu was 11 years old when she celebrated her first Thanksgiving and remembers what it was like to observe a new holiday in a new country.
Dragu, who was born in Cisnadie, Romania, and currently lives in Wheatfield, Ind., is a criminal justice major and the Student Government Association President at Indiana University Northwest.
“I remember coming in this country and celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time with my mother, sister and stepfather.” Although the holiday, which is an American tradition, was not celebrated in Romania, they have added Romanian dishes to their meal make it their own.
“Around this fall season back home we would prepare for winter by harvesting, canning vegetables and marmalade. We would cook roasted duck with sautéed cabbage as our main dish, homemade bread, pies and more pies. Most of our traditions are by custom American concentrated, with the addition of certain dishes that we add.”
This includes ham and turkey as main dishes as well as sautéed green beans, cranberry sauce, and Romanian mashed potatoes.
For dessert, they have Romanian style apple pie, Dragu’s favorite, cheesecake and pecan pie with ice cream.
In the future, Dragu would like to add stuffed pigs in a blanket with cabbage and polenta to that mix as well.
“As the cooking comes to an end and is ready to be enjoyed, our family and friends come together and give thanks to God and each other for being in our lives.”
Because Dragu’s mom and stepdad grew up in different parts of the world, the American traditions were passed down from her stepdad’s family while her mother incorporated the Romanian traditions.
“My sister and I will be the ones carrying through these observed traditions through generations to come, and I look forward to making them my own,” she said.
“I have learned of how my friends celebrate their Thanksgiving by being a part of it, and how we celebrate ours and it is somewhat different.
“I can say that these traditions I have learned and been a part of will evolve when I have my own house, and my own family, mainly because I desire to celebrate my culture the way we would, if we were in Romania. Of course, there is no Thanksgiving dinner without ham and turkey, and they will undoubtedly forever be a part of our Thanksgiving dinners.”
She said she would like to teach her future children about the meaning of Thanksgiving, one of them being “their mommy coming to America from a different country and given an opportunity to have a better life. I would like to create roots here in the States, and never forget where I came from. For me this has become my home, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Incorporating their own foods and culture to American traditions is typical of immigrant families, said Terrence Martinez, an immigration counselor at the International Community Alliance in Gary.
“They adapt it just by having a family affair and incorporating all their particular foods depending on what country they are from whether Mexico, Puerto Rico or India,” he said.
“It takes on an international flavor. Many families here intermarry with other nationalities and they have combinations of food from America and whatever their food is. They observe it as a food holiday.”
Holly Singh, the director of International Students and Scholars at Valparaiso University, said international students studying at VU usually use the Thanksgiving holiday as a time to travel.
Typically a week before Thanksgiving, the international programs office will join other campus groups to host a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the students. The week of Thanksgiving, school is out of session and they are then able to travel during that time.
The International Affairs office at Purdue University Calumet also caters to its approximately 700 international students. They coordinate fliers and e-mail correspondence on campus to match international students looking for a traditional Thanksgiving meal with a local student or faculty member who will share the holiday with them.