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Posts Tagged ‘immigrants’

Photo: Julie Van Rosendaal
EthniCity chef and kitchen manager Ajoy Sehgal helps immigrants to Canada as they acclimate to a new land and develop food and hospitality-industry skills.

I’ve written before about how immigrants often start their own businesses, especially food businesses. And I’ve also blogged on nonprofit organizations that use a food business to acclimate refugees to US job expectations and teach marketable skills. (Beautiful Day, “Granola on a Mission,” is a favorite.)

Today I have a story about the same sort of thing going on in Canada — and how great it’s been for both immigrants and customers.

Julie Van Rosendaal reports at CBC News, “Sharing a meal remains one of the best ways to get to know someone, and to learn more about different cultures and backgrounds.

EthniCity catering, a non-profit social enterprise run by Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers, taps into the culinary knowledge of new Canadians, turning their cooking skills into a business, while helping prepare them to work in the food and hospitality industry.

” ‘It’s training for us also,’ says chef and kitchen manager Ajoy Sehgal, who worked in kitchens around the world, including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Dubai and throughout the Middle East, before coming to Calgary. ‘They may not be chefs, but they bring expertise about their cuisine. We hope they take something in return.’

“Founded in 1997 as a Collective Kitchen, EthniCity Catering began as a peer support group for women in a church basement and has grown into a full commercial kitchen, providing work experience and training to immigrants during their transition to Canada. …

“Each course runs for 10 weeks with a group of 16 students, who learn in the classroom as well as in the kitchen and on location at catering jobs, under the wing of Sehgal. The group generated $216,000 last year, with profits reinvested into the program. …

“The Centre for Newcomers serves over 10,000 new Canadians each year. With a staff of 130 in their northeast office and students and visitors often in the building for classes and other events, the caterers have a built-in customer base for morning coffee and pastries and unique lunch offerings. …

“EthniCity caters groups of up to 500, and offers their homemade appetizers — pakoras, fatayer, spring rolls, samosas, satay and the like — for customers to bake themselves at home.

“The menu is inspired by cuisines from around the world — the regular menu includes chickpea chaat and bahjis, Philippine pancit noodles, Thai green curry, Indian korma, Arabic mujaddara, Greek moussaka and Russian stroganoff. New dishes are regularly added, and they create custom menus. …

” ‘We’re trying to give them exposure to as much as possible,’ says Sehgal.” More here.

That list is making me hungry. And I’m remembering one of the things I loved about the years we lived near Rochester, New York — the annual international food festival held outside the museum. If I was lucky, my husband would babysit, while I walked around in a happy haze, tasting everything. Mmm.

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Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/for the Washington Post
Mustafa Azimi, center, joins a discussion group hosted by Randy Harris, a friend, whose table is usually positioned near the Islamic Center’s table at a New Mexico farmers market.

Even though Thanksgiving dinners have an unfortunate reputation for fraught conversations among family members, it’s still true that sitting together and sharing food often bridges differences. That’s why going places where food is the main event — say, farmers markets — could be a great way to find commonalities with people from other cultures.

Abigail Hauslohner at the Washington Post describes one market’s experiment.

“The mother and daughter arrived just before 8 a.m., unpacking the table and folding chairs from the back of a white minivan. It was a chilly 43 degrees, and the sun cast long shadows between the farmers market stalls and the funnel cake truck, the smell of grilled meat and wood smoke hovering.

“Sureyya Hussain carefully laid out the Korans.

“Soon, the curious passersby began to approach with their questions, their comments and their concerns. The answers, Hussain hoped, would inform and enlighten — or at least spur constructive conversations about being Muslim in America.

“ ‘We wanted to have a voice about what Islam is for us,’ said Hussain, 50, who organizes the monthly table, where anyone can come to learn about Islam. …

“For some of the nation’s small-town mosques and groups of recent immigrants, the instinct has been to turn inward, keep a low profile, buy security cameras, and tell young people to avoid confrontations. Other communities have tried the exact opposite: public engagement.

“The Islamic Center of Las Cruces, the only mosque in this desert town of 101,000 about an hour north of the Mexican border, is one of them.

“Hussain and other members of the mosque’s Dawa — or outreach committee — come here, to the town’s farmers market, and set up a sign that says ‘Know Islam’ amid the stalls hawking apples, kettle corn and handmade soaps. They provide free Korans and pamphlets on different Islamic beliefs, and then they sit there for five hours, offering themselves up for whatever comes their way. …

“Sometimes the conversations get difficult — maybe even a little uncomfortable or combative — but the volunteers do their best to stay calm and friendly.

“ ‘I could very easily sit in my house and hang out, but I’ve decided to do something, and this is the consequence of doing something,’ said Mustafa Azimi, 27, a nurse, who joined Hussain and her daughter, along with his wife and another member of the mosque. ‘People are going to ask you questions. The goal is showing the community that Islam is not what the news portrays. If people knew that Muslims are also — like, that I’m a nurse who also knows how to cook food — that would be awesome.’ …

“ ‘Overall it’s been wonderful,’ said Hussain, a lawyer who grew up in Wyoming and is a mother of three. ‘People are friendly. People have a lot to say. Even people who disagree with us.’ …

” ‘We get more people that are stopping just to tell us that they either love us being here, or, like ACT for America, yell us down,’ Hussain said. ‘We get more of that because both sides feel the need to tell us how they feel.’

“As 1 p.m. approached and the farmers market began to wind down, a man in a cowboy hat, lugging a large metal washtub, walked up, looked at the sign and struck up a conversation. …

“ ‘Do you follow sharia law?’ [asked a guy calling himself Washtub Jerry.] ‘Do you want sharia law? Because it’s not compatible with the Constitution.’

“[Radwan Jallad, an electrical engineer and member of the mosque’s Dawa committee] explained: ‘Sharia law says you’re required to follow the law of the country.’

“Jerry seemed satisfied. He accepted a Koran, and said he would visit again.” More at the Washington Post, here. And check out a similar “Ask a Muslim” initiative started by one couple in Cambridge, Mass., here.

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Dressing in Austrian dirndl at Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont.

Nearly five years ago, when I was an editor, I solicited an article on Latino dairy workers from Daniel Baker at the University of Vermont. Dairy farms are practically synonymous with Vermont, where cows dot the mountainous landscape. The article summarized Dr. Baker’s research showing how essential immigrants were to the Vermont dairy industry’s survival. (Read the piece here.)

Of late, however, Vermont dairy farmers are anxious about their industry’s viability as walls both figurative and solid threaten the labor supply.

Visiting the state this week, I did note that there seemed to be a good supply of immigrants or former immigrants working in the hospitality industry at least.

I try not to ask people where they are “from” since friends in my Race in America group at the Fed have convinced me it’s a question that can make people feel unwelcome. But I was interested when someone whose way of speaking suggested Africa came to fix the hotel shower and when I noted the dirndl-garbed young lady above working the breakfast shift.

According to 2015 data from Migration Policy, Vermont has 2,619 residents born in Africa (9.3 % of the state’s foreign-born population in 2015), 8,199 born in Asia (29%), 9,113 born in Europe (32.3%), 3,038 born in Latin America (10.8%), 4, 875 born in North America, with small places like Greenland added to that mix (17.3%), and 403 born in Oceana (1.4%). By far the largest group is from Canada, which borders Vermont on the north. Vermont would be a more empty state than it is and nearly devoid of workers without all the foreign born.

If you’re interested in more, take a look at American Migration Council’s Vermont data, too. It’s here.

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Photo: Jessica Mendoza/Christian Science Monitor
Mike Fleming, owner of Farmers Feed Co., in Stockton, California, wants every customer to feel comfortable.

Well, yes, our country is polarized. But Stockton, California, not so much. Maybe there is something we can learn from the people there about what happens when you get to know the “other.”

Jessica Mendoza writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “When customers walk into Farmers Feed Co., Mike Fleming’s first priority is to make them feel at ease. He goes out of his way to befriend his clientele, ‘whether they spend a dollar or $300.’ When he sees a customer struggling to speak English, he uses his bit of Spanish to communicate with them. …

“ ‘It makes them feel more comfortable … and that’s what I like.’ ”

Fleming — an actual Trump voter and a reason not to see that constituency as monolithic — says this is pretty typical of Stockton.

“A city whose historic ties to agriculture have helped it retain a streak of classic conservatism, Stockton’s population today is 70 percent people of color and 15 percent non-citizens. Immigrants both documented and undocumented work and live with conservative landowners, growers, and businessmen – and family values, hard work, and individual merit are principles that sit side-by-side with opportunity, tolerance, and equality.

“The result is that Stockton – and the San Joaquin Valley in general – provide a snapshot of an increasingly rare reality in 2017 America: what happens when people with a broad range of histories, ethnicities, and ideologies rely on one another within the same community.

“Immigrant advocates here are less inclined to alienate those on the opposite end of the political spectrum by shutting down Republican voices. Local conservatives also tend to be more open to immigration reforms that involve pathways to citizenship for undocumented workers. …

“ ‘In communities where a lot of undocumented immigrants live and work, people are more sympathetic to them,’ notes Sarah Trumble, deputy director of social policy and politics at Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington. …

“Michael Tubbs, Stockton’s 27-year-old mayor, … says, ‘Because we’re forced to come together, the conversations aren’t in an echo chamber.’

“Given that reality, a city official who wants to get things done has little room to pander to one side or the other with extreme positions on polarizing issues like immigration, Tubbs says. … Just because he disagrees with a group or individual or what they represent, he says, ‘that’s not going to stop me from having a conversation if I need to have a conversation.’ …

“This isn’t to say that Stockton is a political utopia where Republicans and Democrats live in harmony. In the past decade the city has dealt with … events charged with political, socioeconomic, and racial tension. But interviews with Stockton residents and community leaders do suggest that when people view one another as part of the same group – when they are able to empathize with one another because they live and work together – compromise and compassion are more likely to become viable options”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: The Guardian
One recent immigrant from Pakistan was welcomed into the home of Jo Haythornthwaite of Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow, an example of individuals stepping up to help refugees.

The hostility to immigrants that fueled the Brexit vote in Britain gets all the attention, but there are other voices. There are always other voices.

Gregory Maniatis writes for the Open Society Foundations about refugee outreach across the British Isles.

” ‘I can’t solve the whole Syrian crisis, but I can do something, for a few people.’ The words of Olwen Thomas, from the port of Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales, probably sum up the feelings of many people around the world, as we follow news reports about the terrible difficulties that have faced refugee families fleeing the conflict in Syria, as well as other crises around the world.

“Thomas, and other members of her community, are now doing something significant through their involvement in the Fishguard Refugee Sponsorship Group. The group was one of the first to respond to a UK scheme first announced last July by the British Home Affairs Minister Amber Rudd and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby — the leader of the Anglican Church.

“Under the Community Sponsorship program, local groups agree to sponsor refugee families and help them integrate into life in the UK by assisting with things such as finding housing, securing access to medical and social services, arranging English language tuition, and supporting them towards employment and self-sufficiency. …

“One Welsh group in the small town of Cardigan has raised £12,000 as part of its application to the scheme. Vicky Moller, a member of the group, told the BBC … ‘People are very, very keen to help.’

“The sponsorship model being launched in towns and cities across England and Wales is partly inspired by a hugely successful effort launched in Canada in 1979, when the mayor of Ottawa, Marion Dewar, mobilized an effort by community groups to settle 4,000 mostly Southeast Asian refugees. To date, Canadian communities and citizens have resettled almost 300,000 refugees through its private sponsorship program. …

“Chris Clements, a director of Social Finance UK, … has noted the shortcomings of ‘traditional’ refugee resettlement in the UK, which has left many refugee families isolated and struggling to adapt to their new surroundings. This in turn results in high rates of unemployment, depression, stress, and other problems.

“Community sponsorship, Clements says, ‘enables local people to take responsibility for resettling a refugee family, supporting and empowering them to rebuild their lives.’ ”

More here.

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Image: Collection of Stephen J. Hornsby/Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education
America—A Nation of One People From Many Countries,” by Emma Bourne, published in 1940 by the Council Against Intolerance in America.

At Atlas Obscura, Lauren Young writes about a powerful 1940 map showing America as a nation of immigrants.

“In the years leading up to the Second World War,” says Young, “isolationist sentiment coursed pretty strongly throughout the United States. Some Americans feared that immigrants were a threat to the country. …

“ ‘With the exception of the Indian, all Americans or their forefathers came here from other countries,’ the illustrator Emma Bourne inscribed on the map. The Council Against Intolerance commissioned Bourne’s work in an effort to remind Americans that the U.S. had always defined itself as a country of varied national origins and religious backgrounds.

“Bourne illustrates America’s unique ethnic and religious diversity by erasing state borderlines and showing the nation as one unit. Long red ribbons weave through the landscape to show clusters of immigrant groups and where they settled, from Japanese in the West to Italians in the East. At the bottom left is an inset scroll listing famous Americans in literature, science, industry, and the arts alongside their ethnic backgrounds, including George Gershwin and Albert Einstein, who became a U.S. citizen the year the map was published. …

“Bourne also emphasizes the range of religions present during this era, along with staple industries in each state, including a giant potato in Idaho, a huge fish in Washington, and large lobster in Maine. Detailed figures of people at work are meant to show how immigrants are active in creating a prosperous America.” Read more here.

(Thank you for the lead, Bob!)

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You know how once you become aware of a thing, you see it everywhere? That’s what I’ve been experiencing since I learned about how the Providence Granola Project trains refugees on the ins and outs of a food business, acclimating them to the US work culture and helping them develop concrete skills.

Now every few days I seem to read about another food business focused on hiring refugees. Autumn Spanne wrote recently for the Guardian about one in New York that hires refugees who have cooked for large groups (including large families).

“When Manal Kahi arrived in New York from Lebanon two years ago, to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, she longed for authentic hummus, but couldn’t find a restaurant or supermarket that came close to her expectations. So she started making her own, based on a recipe from her Syrian grandmother.

“The recipe was a hit with her friends, and it occurred to Kahi that there might be a successful business in it. The idea also dovetailed with her growing concern about the Syrian refugee crisis. Since the beginning of 2013, the number of Syrian refugees registered worldwide by the United Nations has grown from half a million to more than 5.5 million. …

“Kahi sought a way to help. She decided to start a social enterprise designed to help refugees from all over the world get established in their new country and provide New Yorkers a positive entry point for interacting with the city’s refugee community. Kahi’s efforts put the spotlight on the role business has to play in the refugee crisis, and whether there’s a need for new approaches to help recently arriving refugees integrate and become self-sustaining.”

In January, “Kahi and her brother launched Eat Offbeat, a for-profit meal delivery startup that employs recently resettled refugees from around the world as chefs who prepare traditional dishes from their countries of origin. The main prerequisite is that they enjoy cooking and have had experience cooking for groups – even if that just means extended family. …

“The goal, said Kahi, is twofold: help refugees get a foothold in the US, and ‘change the narrative around refugees.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Eva Cruz/Eat Offbeat  
Potato kibbeh is one of the dishes on the Eat Offbeat menu.

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