MAP’s Matthew Horton in conversation with Jin-Ya Huang
What inspired you to do this project?
My mom, she was a chef, immigrant, and a community leader. She has passed from multiple myeloma, a blossoming cell cancer, and this project came about to pay homage to her legacy.
What has been the response from attendees?
The response has been very positive and overwhelmingly people have been telling me how the community needs this interaction and it's a beautiful thing to do, since food is such a universal language and it knows no boundaries.
What has been the response from the participants?
It's been empowering to have the home chefs cook with the pros. It's instilled a sense of accomplishment for the women. They're able to communicate through food and now see bridges building between cultures. The ladies have told me that their hopes of restarting a new life now restored. From not having a choice to leave their war torn homes, to - they now see possibilities of renew and rebuild.
You work with women who may not speak the same language as the community attending. What role does food have in bridging divides?
Food has been able to put a face on someone who didn't have a voice, or identity, to someone relatable, like a mom, a sister, or a neighbor. That was not previously there before in other interactions these women had with the community. The dinner offers this communications tool for the participates to "speak" with the diners, that food is love. I think it's pretty great.
The act of eating food prepared by someone else - maybe even on a primitive level - requires a sense of trust. Trust that the food was prepared safely or that it was made with good ingredients, among others. Do you think this implied sense trust helps participants and attendees break down barriers?
Yes, it is very much instinctual. For everyone to let their guard down, to come together, and have a safe space to bond with food, requires a tremendous amount of trust. To cook and share food is to let someone in your home, a sacred and intimate spot, to bare your soul. Having this buy in is phenomenal on both sides.
What lead you to choose immigrants from Bhutan, Iraq, Myanmar and Syria?
My intentions are to work with nonprofit human rights groups clients and their extended networks. These refugees are a part of the program because their countries are currently in conflict.
We’re in a scary time in regards to governmental and public attitudes towards immigrants. Most people supporting these policies or harboring these beliefs may have never interacted with immigrants from Bhutan, Iraq, Myanmar or Syria. What role do you think this project has in combating this climate?
I think Break Bread, Break Borders has the job of raising social awareness in our community on human rights in the immigrant and refugee population. This form of meet and greet education, coming in the shape of a dinner, is more palpable and approachable than a forced contact. To break bread with someone has a positive meaning in all cultures. I think is a wonderful place to start the conversation.
With recipes being passed down potentially through many generations, what role does the dinner play in telling the stories and history of the participants?
The dinner provides a way to share the recipes and food as common ground. The process of generations passing down food memories, help tell each family's struggles and triumphs are no different from one culture to another. It creates a place of compassion, and radiates something more authentic within the people, and makes it more real to see that everyone is the same, and we are in all of this together.
Education and empowerment are key parts of the programs, what classes and life skills will be taught?
The women are getting a chance to cook outside of their homes, inside a professional chef's restaurant. They're getting a chance to interact with people they would not normally have the ability to come in contact with in their sphere. They are in a workshop to learn more language, to hone in their voice to speak about their food and culture. This type of messaging is needed for the women. It gives them the opportunity to communicate with the mass public and shed some light on their culture, and it helps them engender their heritage. All this is nonverbal and its beautiful that human beings can achieve this peace and love through food