My Accidental Thanksgiving With the Tran Family


Ed note: This article was originally published in 2011.

To share a meal is to know a nation. That’s what I think. A year ago this Thanksgiving (before I worked for Mother Jones), a long-running mixup led me on a remarkable and memorable adventure. It all started with spam. 

Four years ago, I’d started receiving group emails from the Tran Family, Somewhere USA, detailing Thanksgiving preparations. Surely these emails were intended for some other James West, I thought, and I deleted or ignored them. But they kept coming. By Thanksgiving 2010, curiosity got the better of me. I decided to investigate this enduring case of mistaken identity—who were these folks? And was the real James West upset he’d never received their holiday emails?

I tracked them down, culminating in a YouTube video clip that went viral and sparked a journey around the world, from Sydney to West Palm Beach Florida in time for the Tran Family Thanksgiving. What were the odds? America’s slowest news week, cravings around identity and tradition, and social media all combined to land me in the center of this extraordinary family’s hospitality.

The story took on a life of its own, and among the thousands of online comments on the video, something else surprising and heart-warming materialized: a long list of invites to share meals around America. Arizona, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, New York, Rhode Island, San Francisco.

So I made this trailer. And maybe one day, when I have the time (wink, nudge MJ editors!), I’ll discover more Thanksgiving tables across America as welcoming as the Tran’s.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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