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Have a College Kid Over for Thanksgiving Dinner ― For Diversity’s Sake

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

I’ve often wondered why schools don’t have more family-friendly schedules around the holidays to make it easy for kids attending schools far from home.

Let’s face it. It’s a drag to be stuck in a dorm for the holidays. But I know there probably will be a few kids left to fend for themselves this year.

Thanksgiving is just too short. It’s also too close to the end of the school year and Christmas for some families to budget a second cross-country trip home.

It does, however, create an opportunity for one of higher education’s best diversity moments: the personal invite home from a roommate’s parents.

As a scholarship kid from California going to school in the Boston area, most people at my school didn’t know what a Filipino American was.

At the time, the only connection to the Philippines most had was maybe World War II. They’d seen the 1945 John Wayne film, “Back to Bataan,” and might have remembered the Filipino military man in the movie — played by Anthony Quinn, who just happened to be a Mexican American Hispanic actor, known more for playing a Greek (Zorba) but who played the Filipino hero, Capt. Andres Bonifacio in “Bataan.”

So imagine when I showed up at dinner as the cold, hungry, stray college kid—the perfect appreciative dinner guest.

I was also American, who only looked foreign and exotic when I visited my college buddy’s family in tony Westchester County, New York.

The centerpiece turkey, I’d had before, of course ― but with white rice (Asian style, no Uncle Ben’s).  It was all the other stuff at the other meals that were revelations to me: the latkes, the knishes, etc. Lox, white fish, sable.

My Jewish American roommate took all that for granted. For me?  It was a gastronomic adventure.

The next year, my Greek friend took me to his family’s home in Queens. The experience was similarly delightful. Turkey again, of course, focused the meal, but along the way there were the dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), hummus and baba ghanoush (eggplant) side dishes that I never had at a Filipino holiday meal.

Top it off with two kinds of baklava, galactoboureko (custard in phyllo) and Greek coffee, and I was a happy pilgrim.

It was such a memorable diversity moment; I figure we should replicate it for my son, a freshman at Berkeley.

I told him to be on the lookout for the East Coast stray.

Dutifully, my son found and invited one of his suite mates, a Chinese American kid from New Jersey, to our humble home for Thanksgiving.

It’s not the Filipino American urban home of my mom and dad. My wife, from Missouri, of Irish/Scottish descent, and I have what I call a “Caucapino” home, and will be preparing a much more traditional meal — albeit vegetarian.

But we’ve got our fusion thing happening, too. I just got back from Asia and can whip up a wicked Thai curry recipe from scratch.

I have also developed this unique craving for a special fruit called durian, often called the “King of Fruit.”

On a fruit level, it is the absolute test of diversity and tolerance.

It’s also out of season, but we will have it in some form, for sure.

We have hungry college kids to feed. And we all have plenty to be thankful for.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (  Like him at ; twitter@emilamok

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