Your refugee neighbors and local businesses are building longer tables across the country– will you join them?
By Rebecca Ma, Associate Campaigner, Amnesty International USA
Right now, thousands of women, men, and children are making their away across Central America and Mexico, many fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries and seeking safety in the U.S. They’ve come together in a caravan to be better protected on this dangerous journey to the north.
But instead of welcoming and offering them a chance to rebuild their lives in safety, the U.S. government deployed 5,200 additional armed troops to the border, with the implicit threat to use violence to stop these women, men and children from entering the country. The President recently said he may send up to 15,000.
This is happening after the administration separated thousands of families at the border earlier this summer, ripping babies and kids from their parents’ arms. Those who were allowed to stay together languish behind bars in family detention centers.
This is happening after the President, just two months ago, set the U.S. refugee admissions ceiling for next fiscal year to admit at most 30,000 people — the lowest ever in history since the U.S. refugee admissions program was established in 1980.
In response to policies that seek to abandon, punish and criminalize those seeking safety, Amnesty International USA is building a longer table: a national movement to welcome refugees in the U.S. through actions that show you and your local community stand for and with refugees.
We know food has the power to bring people together; it highlights our similarities, celebrates our differences, fosters conversation and builds camaraderie — pillars of our Longer Table initiative. So, we’re joining with Yelp to go “Behind the Dream” with several refugee business-owners and restaurateurs across the country who’ve started to build longer tables in their communities through food.
1. Juan and David Certaingrew up on their grandfather’s coffee farm in the hills of Piendamó, Colombia. Looking back on their childhood, they shared: “Our playing fields were bursting with the aroma of coffee while it was drying. As we played, we absorbed the scents, learning to appreciate the work that went into a good cup of coffee.”
While they were forced to flee their home as political refugees, Juan and David didn’t leave their roots or heritage behind. Settling in New Mexico, they openedVilla Myriam Roasting, a roastery that processes green coffee beans, and The Brew, a coffee bar that carries on their family legacy and captures the spirit of their new home, serving food from a local Albuquerque restaurant, showcasing music and artwork by local artists, and creating a space for the community to come together.
2. Lenh Luongand his family fled Vietnam and found temporary refuge in a Philippine camp before a church sponsored their resettlement. In 1991, they arrived in Atlanta, where Lenh became interested in the culinary arts. After years of mentorship, practice, and traveling to and back from Vietnam, he finally refined his recipe for the perfect pho.
After opening their first restaurant in Forest Park, the family business grew to span four eateries — Pho Dai Loi 1, 2, 3and Pho Dai Viet: “For now, I’m satisfied and have passed the torch to my son Kyle to perfect the craft of making pho. I hope he can help me share our food with everyone — not just the Vietnamese community…so that future generations of Vietnamese American and everyone that enjoys can always grab a hot bowl.”
Food isn’t the only piece of home Lenh and his family brought with them to Atlanta; over the years, they’ve sponsored Tet festivals at local Buddhist temples and Catholic churches celebrating Vietnamese New Year. Lenh’s passion also led him to put up money to help pho enthusiasts open up their own restaurants across the country — in Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas.
3. Meet Antonio “Geronimo” Villalobos: At just 8-years-old, he and his family were forced to escape threats to their lives in San Miguel, El Salvador. Civil war had broken out in the country, and streets were increasingly more militarized. After his parents were kidnapped and his father was shot dead, his family had no option but to flee for their lives to the U.S.
Settling in Houston, Texas, Geronimo immersed himself in the restaurant industry, taking on various jobs from catering, sweeping, running and slinging drinks, and working behind the counter as a barista. He went on to manage Etro Loungebefore eventually buying the 80s and 90s dance club from the owner. Discovering a passion for coffee, Geronimo opened Campesino Coffee Houseto offer a new perspective on Houston’s Montrose coffee culture, brewing Latin-inspired drinks like horchata iced lattes, café cubano, Maya mocha lattes, and cortaditos.
Reflecting on his journey and those of other American Dreamers, Geronimo says: “I could never, ever get in the way of people wanting to come to this country and make something better for themselves. It’s easy to make misinformed judgments on other people’s lives you have no understanding of. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,”which translates to, “When people unite, they will never be defeated.”
Refugees and neighbors are already building longer tables across the country — will you join them at the table?