Hate Immigrants, Love Their Food

Taco Truck, Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: John Lamb

Hungry? What are you in the mood for? Sushi? Tacos? Pizza? How many times have you had – or heard – this conversation?

Americans love foods from all over the world. They swoon at flavors brought to this country by immigrants. How else do you explain the success of fast food chains including Taco Bell, Chipotle and Pizza Hut? Salsa is America’s favorite condiment, outselling ketchup.

But then there’s that wall. You know, the one that the current occupant of the White House and many of his supporters want to build to keep people out. Immigrant food is welcome, but not the people who brought it here, including many immigrant workers who cook and serve in restaurants and harvest the crops.

At Feet in 2 Worlds we see stories about food as a window into the deep cultural crosscurrents and political challenges facing immigrants today.

Why food? Everybody eats, and unlike the language we speak, the religion we practice or the way we dress, what we eat and cook is arguably the most widely accepted way for us to express our culture. Through food we can trace where we have come from and where we are headed as individuals and as a nation of immigrants. Through food we can also glimpse how the society is coming apart in unforeseen ways.

In this issue of our online magazine, Immigrants, Food and America’s Culture Wars, Fi2W food journalism fellow Katherine Hernandez reports on the financial losses suffered by New York City street vendors resulting from the federal government’s crack down on undocumented immigrants. In a personal essay, Zahir Janmohamed, co-host of the Racist Sandwich podcast, talks about how the decision to dine in a restaurant has become complicated for his Tanzanian Indian-Muslim family in this era of heightened Islamaphobia. We also offer stories about the uncertain future of a chef who is a DACA recipient, a new type of dining experience that features food cooked by refugee chefs, and an essay on our uncomfortable relationship with hummus and the Arab culture that created it.

This is the time of year when many of us celebrate holiday traditions. Often those traditions include recipes and rituals that our immigrant ancestors brought to America. When abuela makes her Christmas tamales or bubbe fries potato latkes for Chanukah, it’s a way to honor what earlier generations went through to leave their home in another country and make a new life in America.

The holidays are also an opportunity to reflect on what lies ahead for today’s immigrants.   Like earlier generations, newer arrivals bring values, cultural traditions, and foods that are quickly incorporated into the fabric of American society. And like generations of immigrants before them they face racism, discrimination, economic hardship and resentment. But with some notable exceptions – the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II – immigrants have historically believed that once in the U.S. they could remain here and make a better life for themselves and their children.

Now, with the proliferation of anti-immigrant policies on the federal level and in many states, that long-held faith in the promise of America as place where immigrants are welcome is eroding. Let’s hope the variety of foods and cultures that we cherish and the people that have brought them here don’t become a relic of the past, a reminder of a time before America walled itself off from the rest of the world.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, The J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.

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AboutJohn Rudolph
John Rudolph, Founder & Former Executive Producer of Feet in 2 Worlds, is a radio journalist with more than 44 years experience as a program host, reporter, editor and producer of documentaries and news reports. John produced the award-winning documentary Feet in Two Worlds: Immigrants in a Global City, which was the debut for Feet in 2 Worlds. John has taught journalism at The New School, The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine and Boston University.