Transforming Tradition : The Valley's Varied Perspectives Refine Meaning of Thanksgiving : Collegial Diners

Hearth and home, turkey with all the trimmings, family members reunited from afar.

These are the usual images of Thanksgiving, a holiday outdone only by Christmas in its sense of tradition and fireside warmth. But tradition does not reflect all of today's reality, as definitions of home, family and even food are evolving in our society.

Throughout the San Fernando Valley, residents gathered in their own unique ways to observe a national holiday that has deep roots in American history. From a Chatsworth home for boys to houses where turkey is taboo, from a group of Filipino exchange students dining at a Mexican restaurant to a new kind of family in Van Nuys, celebrations and celebrants brought new perspectives to the meaning of Thanksgiving.

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It was an unlikely setting for a Thanksgiving meal, but they gathered anyway at a local Mexican restaurant for baskets of tortilla chips and plates of frijoles. There wasn't much turkey, but then, that wasn't the point.

"It's something we do for the students to come together, because a lot don't have families to to back to in the area," said Cal State Northridge senior Brian Boquecosa, describing the Mexican dinner, a Thanksgiving ritual for CSUN's Filipino-American Student Assn.

Indeed, as most inhabitants of the sprawling Northridge campus flocked home for the holiday weekend and student dorms nearly emptied, the tough part of Thanksgiving was for those who remained, some separated from their families by thousands of miles.

Many seek out friends and group events to fill the void. But some are left alone.

Among CSUN's several hundred foreign students, most of whom do not celebrate Thanksgiving in their home countries, many nonetheless regard it as a time for togetherness with friends, albeit without the trappings of turkey and dressing, said Benin Guleser, president of CSUN's International Student Council.

"They're not getting together for a big meal. They're getting together because everyone else is. When a big group does something, other people want to follow," Guleser said.

Many of CSUN's Filipino students have family members nearby. But for those who don't, Boquecosa's group has held its Mexican dinner, this year on Wednesday, for the past four years. They go for Mexican food, he said, because there's no local Filipino restaurant large enough to hold them.

Stephanie Ronnet, a CSUN graduate student who arrived from France only a few months ago, did as many others and accepted an offer to celebrate her first Thanksgiving at a fellow student's home. "It sounds weird to us, because cooking a turkey you can do any day," she said.

Amir Malekghassemi, a recent CSUN graduate from Iran who has been separated from his parents since 1987, spends the holiday with local Iranian friends, who always have turkey on the menu.

"Somehow we've blended it into our culture over here," Malekghassemi said.

In one CSUN dorm that houses short-term foreign students, the resident advisers had hoped to throw a Thanksgiving dinner party to give the students their first taste of American tradition.

But the students themselves nixed the plan, saying they already had engagements. So the resident advisers--who must stay to work--decided to hold their own turkey potluck anyway.

"We're all going to cook a little bit of food and bring it," said adviser Stephanie Deshayes, a senior who came here from France four years ago.

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