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.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.