So Funny, Reflecting on My Immigrant Thanksgiving Experience


A friend of mine just posted a photo of a perfectly can-shaped portion of cranberry sauce and reminded me of my immigrant Thanksgiving experience growing up in America as an expat.

Because I was born in another country and immigrated to the United States with my family at the tender age of 4, the concept of an annual feast with family one time of year to give thanks for blessings and all we have was completely foreign.

Fortunately, we were always invited to the home of one of my parent’s friends or distant fellow immigrant relatives that live in our city and therefore our job was usually to bring a dish or drink and arrive. That was the ritual until our family grew to a hefty size of 6 after my two younger sisters and younger brother were born.

All of a sudden, the invitations trickled down and eventually came to a complete halt. Who wanted to add 6 additional servings and place settings to accommodate such a massive brood? So…the Jallohs we were on their own to figure this American tradition out for ourselves.

Well, they don’t have Turkeys in our native Sierra Leone, West Africa and my mom was not sure how long such a ginormous bird needed to cook. There was no Internet back then to look it up and my mom would just peel off the plastic wrapper that the turkey came packaged in and would ball up the simple instructions with cooking time printed on it too.

Instead, every Thanksgiving on our own, she’d rise around 5 am and stick the Turkey in the oven to cook…for the entire day. slow blink She was not interested in eating uncooked meat so to be safe, we were forced to eat the driest turkey in all of Washington, DC I’m certain. Like, every year.

It’s not until I got older and upon coming back home from college one year, did I find a recipe online to follow. The cooking instructions only required our bird to stay in the oven for a few hours given its weight and not until that year, sometime in the 1990s did anyone in my family feast upon a juicy turkey. Before then, we all assumed that’s just how all turkeys tasted; like a piece of seasoned rubber. ha!

Sides were usually what we saw folks eating on TV shows and when it came to cranberry sauce, it was Ocean Spray’s jellied sauce in a can. It was an obligatory accessory and we honestly thought you had to have it on the table even though a lot of us were suspicious about eating something so sweet with a savory meal.

We don’t mix sugar with dinner at all back home. Heck, there is no such a thing as desserts. When you’re done eating, that’s it.  You get up from the table and go about your business. There’s no coffee, after dinner cocktails and apple pie. Aaaah America and it’s excess. Supersize me, for sure.

But each year, somebody would open the can, plop it on a plate and set in on the banquet table to be passed up by dinner guests and eventually placed in a Tupperwear bowl where it would live for a bout a week or two before finding its final resting place in the sink garbage disposal.

Over time, some of us began to appreciate the tartness and would add a forkful or two to the second or third plate– never the first. But for the most part, it usually met an untimely demise. Such a waste of good processed jelly.

As I got older,  I would eventually learn about how real, non canned and jellied, cranberry sauce was supposed to look and taste. I even saw a recipe once!

But… upon peeping all the steps to make it and the idea of soaking the berries overnight, I realized that was just too many steps for this woman. They don’t call me “Queen of Fast Cook” for nothing. And by “they”, I mean my mother-in-law and husband.

I’m still not sure I like the moniker cause its a bit of a shady diss but I’m growing to accept the title.


Anyooo…so over time, exchanging Thanksgiving family meal stories casually with friends who also grew up in immigrant families, I began to appreciate the fact that eating a traditional all-American Thanksgiving meal was  a common thing. We immigrants just fell in line. Call it, assimilation lite maybe. Ha!

This truth manifested itself this week even! A friend and mom at my daughter’s school said her husband’s foreign mom also made “traditional” American items for Thanksgiving. She said her mom-in-law didn’t even bother make their cultural dishes from their native country.

Her attitude was like ours, “this is an American thing and this is what they eat, so this is what we’ll eat.” How funny is that?

And coming back full circle, seeing a friend’s plate of cranberry sauce as her Facebook profile triggered all sorts of memories. Another friend replied back to my declaration that the canned cranberry sauce is an immigrant favorite by sharing it’s an American favorite too!

Who knew!?! Hilarious! It’s never too late to learn something new about Thanksgiving.

This year, I’m thankful for having a very wide, varied and diverse group of circles of friends from different stages and experiences of my life who can constantly enrich my life with new perspectives on life, cultural traditions, points of views on all different things in our big wide world.

I’m wishing everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving.


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