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.

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