In a nation of immigrants, food is a comfort and a connection. It’s not just a means of sustenance, but an expression of identity — it connects us to traditions and communities bigger than ourselves.
A good meal reminds us of home and honors our roots. It connects us with others — a cultural tradition that transcends language barriers to remind us of our similarities in a world often framed by our differences.
But while food can help us move beyond — and even celebrate — our differences, it can also be politicized. People twist a celebration of identity into a symbol of “otherness,” and then play on that fear of the “other.”
In 2016, a few months before the presidential election, Marco Gutierrez — founder of the group “Latinos for Trump” — used stereotypical imagery of Mexican culture and cuisine in an attempt to sow fear and justify then-candidate Donald Trump’s aggressively anti-immigrant platform.
Gutierrez told MSNBC, “My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”
If we were only so lucky to have taco trucks on every corner….
Now, 2016 may feel like a lifetime ago, but it’s clear that this underlying cultural fear still informs anti-immigrant sentiment across America.
Food might be a great way to connect to others, but the societal disconnect between our love for tacos and our acceptance of those who prepare them can be seen in the immigration policies pursued by the Trump administration.
In fact, while immigrants make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, a whopping 33 percent of restaurant and hotel owners are immigrants — meaning immigrants play an outsized role in an industry that’s expected to create one million new jobs by 2026.
So as immigrants continue to enrich American culture and create American jobs, it’s worth asking: How do we create an America that not only celebrates diverse cuisines, but the people behind them?
Which brings me to Emmy-nominated, James Beard Foundation award winning chef, Pati Jinich.
For Pati, migration is a common thread that unites her family history with her own personal experience.
The granddaughter of European Jews fleeing the Holocaust, Pati grew up in Mexico surrounded by a mosaic of cultures and cuisines. Pati’s passion for her home country led her to pursue a degree in political analysis, aspiring to strengthen democratic institutions and civic culture in Mexico.
But after moving to Dallas with her family, Pati discovered another passion that helped her connect to her community: cooking. After enrolling in cooking school and teaching Mexican cooking classes, Pati made not only a connection to the Mexican migrant community to the U.S., but a desire to challenge American misconceptions about Mexicans.
Eight seasons later, her award-winning TV show, Pati’s Mexican Table has shared the many stories of Mexico with countless viewers, and made Mexican cooking and culture accessible to a whole new audience.
I recently had the privilege of joining Pati in her kitchen, where she told me about her family’s story, her show’s mission and her ultimate bipartisan meal. Best of all, she taught me how to prepare nopalitos a la Mexicana.
You can listen to the podcast here.
And, for the first time, you can see our conversation here.
Hope you enjoy the conversation!