Op-Ed from the office of Senator Carlos Uresti

November 19, 2010
Mark Langford at 210-932-2568

Thanksgiving: a day of many traditions but one purpose

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

For most Americans, the origin of Thanksgiving conjures up images of black-frocked pilgrims sharing a bounty of turkey, corn and other gifts of food from their new-found Indian friends, not far from their landing at Plymouth Rock.

There is some historical evidence for this, but just like individual families across America, different regions of the country have their own Thanksgiving traditions – and origins.

It turns out that Texas has two, and neither is anywhere close to a sandy shore.

El Paso has staked a claim to holding the first Thanksgiving in North America. For more than 20 years, El Paso citizens have commemorated a day of thanksgiving celebrated by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate and his expedition on April 30, 1598.

According to the Texas Almanac, Oñate, whose father discovered and developed the mines in Zacatecas, Mexico, was en route to some new lands granted by the viceroy of New Spain. After much hardship, Oñate ordered a day of thanksgiving for the survival of his expedition near the present day Chamizal National Memorial. The Almanac says the feast included game and fish supplied by natives of the region.

An important event in the history of North America, the trek marked the beginning of Spanish colonization of the American Southwest.

There is a second claim for the first Thanksgiving in Texas, earlier than the one for Oñate but not as historically secure.

In 1959 the Texas Society of Daughters of the American Colonists erected a marker declaring the first feast of Thanksgiving was held in May 1541 by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle.

However, according to the Almanac, later research indicated that grapes and pecans were gathered for the feast, and neither grow in the canyon. Also, this "Thanksgiving" may have really been a Feast of the Ascension and held much further south, on the forks of the Brazos River.

But whether you are from Texas or Massachusetts or somewhere in between, the origins of Thanksgiving are less important than all the things we have to be thankful for – our families, our prosperity and opportunity, the spirit and dedication of those who serve our country in the cause of liberty, and the freedom we have to speak, worship and believe as we choose.

I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. Whatever local or family traditions you follow, don't let the day pass without acknowledging the real reason behind it. For all that we have, for the loyalty of friends, for the love of family and the very gift of life, there are plenty of thanks to go around.