After moving to the United States a few months ago, a Colombian couple wished to join a table for their first Thanksgiving — and received over 200 invites.
Susana Orrego, 34, moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, with her husband, Edward, and said she saw how important the holiday is in the U.S. from TV shows and movies — and wanted to discover why by taking part in the tradition.
“I was trying to find a family that can adopt us for the holiday,” she told McClatchy News over the phone.
Orrego posted a message on community networking app Nextdoor, explaining her and her husband’s curiosity about Thanksgiving after she came to the state to study at Harvard Medical School for a master’s degree in global health.
Orrego’s first thought was “probably this will be crazy, but I will take the chance,” she said, noting that the move was combined with a mix of curiosity, a little homesickness and interest in learning more about American culture.
After posting, she went to sleep and opened her eyes the following day to find several responses inviting the couple, who is from Medellín, to not just Thanksgiving dinner but also to other outings including brunch and coffee.
“The community started to reply and invite us and open their house and their tables and their hearts, for two strangers — complete strangers in the middle of a pandemic,” she said, noting that she received over 200 invites.
One of the first people who invited the couple to Thanksgiving dinner was a woman named Carol Lesser, who lives minutes away in Brookline. That’s where Orrego and her husband decided to go on Thanksgiving Day for their first taste of turkey after thanking others who invited them.
“Carol was amazing and she mentioned that she has a multi-generational family,” Orrego said.
They joined Lesser’s family and friends as part of a group of 20, bringing Colombian coffee and desserts with them such as natilla, which resembles flan, and hojuelas, a fried pastry.
She said her newfound friends loved the typical Colombian dishes, adding that she and her husband “were enchanted to be there and to talk with the people” as they shared each others’ cultures.
Orrego said her favorite food she tried was the turkey, especially since they aren’t native to Colombia.
Alongside indulging in Thanksgiving food and festivities, Orrego said she and her husband wanted to know the history of the tradition that dates back to 1621.
They were provided with knowledge of American Indians and colonizers by Carol’s sister, Mishy Lesser, an Emmy-award winning researcher and learning director of the Boston-based Upstander Project, which says it “encourages decolonization and upstander behavior through compelling documentary films and learning resources.”
Mishy Lesser showed the couple one of the project’s short films called Bounty, which is about a 1755 colonial proclamation that “paid settlers handsomely to murder” American Indians of the Penobscot Nation, offering money for scalps.
It explained “what happened and why it’s important to recognize the past and deal with the past,” Orrego said.
She told Mishy Lesser that there are similarities with the treatment of indigenous Colombians.
“Instead of the British it was the Spanish,” she said of the settlers who colonized Colombia.
Orrego noted that when she originally posted her message on Nextdoor looking for a family to join for Thanksgiving, some told her that they need to know the history of genocide in the U.S. in regards to American Indians.
“We need to know what happened in the history,” she said, while adding that “Thanksgiving is more than a history.”
“You need to know the history as well,” she said, “but it’s a time that you can share with your family, share gratitude.”
She commented on how members of Carol Lesser’s family and friends flew from all across the country for Thanksgiving from states such as California and Florida “to be together for one night.”
“We live in dark days,” she said. “So I think that Thanksgiving was a moment to be with your family and try to be a better person and try to be united in moments that the world wants us to take a party or divide us.”
Her post on the Nextdoor app now makes her feel like she and her husband have a community and that they can share with them Colombian culture as well, she said.
Orrego also mentioned that Colombia is not what it is often portrayed as in movies and shows like on Netflix regarding drug dealers and drug cartels. She said there are kind people and other sides to the nation that aren’t talked about as much.
She also offered advice to anyone who might feel alone during the holidays: “If you’re alone or you feel alone, don’t be shy, talk to another, make a crazy post like me.”
“Every day we have a lot of bad news. We have army conflict, we have terrorism, we have problems in economy, problems with virus,” she said. “So try to be grateful for the things that we have and try to spread kindness.”