Immigrants share Thanksgiving lessons, advice

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Juan-Diego Garcia-Dominguez had just finished the first Thanksgiving dinner of his life as he spoke about three more feasts he'll devour through the rest of the holiday week.

Fortunately, it all met with his approval -- from the turkey and mashed potatoes right down to the dessert.

"The apple pie is very, very sweet, but it is good," said Garcia-Dominguez, who came to St. Louis from Spain in June.

Garcia-Dominguez plans to celebrate Thanksgiving again with his wife's family and then two more times with extended family on his wife's side. He was one of about 200 people to eat an early Thanksgiving dinner Tuesday at the International Institute in south St. Louis.

The center, which helps immigrants settle in their new homes and assists with education and job placement, offered a free meal to cap lessons on the history of Thanksgiving.

Tom Gagliardi, a chef from the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown St. Louis, told the crowd how to make gravy from turkey drippings and carve a turkey. He also gave a little advice for outside the kitchen.

"We like a lot of food on Thanksgiving," Gagliardi said. "It can mix. It can slop together. That's what Thanksgiving is all about."

The institute has been offering the Thanksgiving meal for nearly 20 years, said director Anna Crosslin. The holiday is unfamiliar to many of the students at the center, she said.

"It's odd from the point of view that the food served is very different many times from their normal diet," Crosslin said. "It's easy to understand from the point of view of wanting an opportunity to give thanks anyway."

Worksheets filled out by newcomers and posted on the center's walls told of immigrants thankful for their jobs, families or simply for the opportunity to be in the United States.

Lhoucine Dchar, who is taking classes to help get a new job and prepare him in case he decides to go to college instead, said he has had Thanksgiving dinners twice since emigrating from Morocco and liked them enough he wants to eat "as many as I can."

Garcia-Dominguez was used to the turkey from Christmas dinners in Spain, but was a little unsure about the red substance in a tiny plastic cup set on top of his plate.

"I don't know what this is," Garcia-Dominguez said. "I think it's cranberries."

Despite the uncertainty, he took a few bites.

"It's the first time that I've tried it," he said. "It's very good."

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