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Break Bread Break Borders – Food That Empowers Our Community

by Fariya Khan
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Break Bread Break Borders

There is a lot of generalization around the issue and understanding of immigration. However recently, the sheer malevolence of the rhetoric has reached an all-time low – The idea of “All they want to do is come here and take welfare” is disturbing at the very least.

Which makes me want to ask the question, “Do we even know any immigrants? Or the lives they’ve lived up till now? Or the struggles they face on an everyday basis trying to make the most of their opportunities”

That’s precisely where there is a disconnect. Our opinions regarding immigrants often seem to be in the abstract, influenced by political narratives. Some proximity to individual human faces hopefully would challenge those ideas.

Break Bread Break Borders provides this closeness and a chance to raise awareness and compassion towards refugees though a language that opens up hearts. The language of food.

Mediterranean food

The Story Behind Break Bread Break Borders

Headquartered in Dallas and Founded by Jin-Ya Huang, a daughter of immigrant Taiwanese parents, Break Bread Break Borders is a catering service initiative with a difference. Jin-Ya Huang knows well the feeling of being an outsider, having few to call friends and even fewer avenues to express her passion, art.

Huang’s mother Margaret, who passed of cancer some years ago was the real inspiration behind Break Bread Break Borders. Margaret owned Egg Roll Express in Dallas. She volunteered often, cooking meals for as many as 300 people whenever the opportunity arose. Many of Huang’s memories of her mother are of the restaurant kitchen, cooking Chinese New Year delicacies, and shopping at the wet market. Huang’s mother understood how food nourishes our confidence and personality, as much as our soul.

Photograph by Brian Moschino

When at the restaurant, Margaret cooked traditional Chinese dishes with great tenderness, slowing down the process down to get it just right. She remembered customers’ names and their food preferences, thus creating a connection with them.

After her mother’s passing, Huang felt the best way to honor her legacy was to bring immigrants together in an effort to make their acclimatization in a new country easier. While it may take several years for refugees to feel at home, Huang and her organization, Break Bread Break Borders help make this transition positively uplifting.

One condition Huang does have is that the women remain genuine about their cultures and the food that they cook reflects their tradition and origins. Just the way her mom taught her.

All You Should Know About Break Bread Break Borders

Through food and culture, and art, Huang and her team of several local chefs provide guidance and cooking classes to refugee women to help empower them. Break Bread Break Borders caters for pop-up dinner events, recruiting women with a passion for cooking their native food.

By enrolling in the program, participants learn the nuances of working in the food industry and benefit from the instructions and advice offered by professional chefs. With a successful model running in Dallas and expecting to accomplish their financial targets, Break Bread Break Borders is investing in nurturing a multifaceted and diverse food experts, food entrepreneurs and excellent cooks. The organization also assists these women to get food-service licenses so they can get a jump-start to their own businesses.

Huang says the initiative gives access to people who never got the chance to safely show their culinary skills and talents, without having to be concerned about discrimination on socio economic status.

BBBB currently partners with Make Art With Purpose, a creative resource center with Janeil Englestad as their mentor. MAP is the current nonprofit fiscal sponsor for Break Bread Break Borders. They collaborate on artistic social justice projects, and through the support, been able to apply for grants for the refugee women.

BBBB also partners with many other NGOs, foundations, educational institutions and government agencies to help train the BBBB Community cooks for a more holistic experience.

Meet Some Of The Wonderful Chefs At Break Bread Break Borders

As per the state Department, Texas is leading among all other states, when it comes to offering home to refugees, and Dallas comes a close second only to Houston, in terms of refugee population. A majority of the women who are part of the Break Bread Break Borders program live in Vickery Meadow, an ethnically diverse neighborhood.

Mariam Al Shiblaq, a Syrian refugee living now in Dallas started as a cook in the BBBB team.  She says the initiative and Jin-Ya continue to lend her support even today.

Rania Al Ahmad recounts her sudden move from Syria, after a particularly terrible night of shelling. Pregnant and with two other kids, she and her family walked seven hours across the border to enter into Jordan. At BBBB, she is spearheading the group currently, since she’s acquired her own Food Managers Certification License and started her food business. Rania and Nawarah Shaker are help train other cooks in the program, to take the exam as well. This is the “Train the Trainer” concept, or some refer to it as the “Lift as you Climb” idea.

Another member, Rasha Sultan only ever dreamt of visiting the United States. Her family has been displaced thrice by war in the past three generations. Rasha’s Chechen grandparents found refuge in Golan Heights during the Chechen war of the 90s.  When Israel illegally occupied The Syrian territory of Golan Heights and the unrest grew worse, Sultan’s family fled from there and settled in Damascus Syria. The Syrian war then forced the family to move to Jordan from where she has arrived in Dallas. Understandably so, Sultan hopes Dallas will finally prove to be a home for her and the coming generations.

Break Bread Break Borders

These women now confidently set down their insulated bags, organize their work station with chafing dishes, and diligently work on their stuffed grape leaves, hummus platters, and garnishes.  While the comforting fragrance of baked coconut cookies wafts through the room, they get busy loading chicken dumplings into the dishes.  The Mediterranean flavors in their cooking is unique, real and unapologetic. The ladies joke and laugh in Arabic, sprinkling newly learned English phrases in their conversation now and then.

Some of these women already run their own catering companies within their local community. They exude the dedication and will to see themselves and their food grow to newer heights. Maybe even a restaurant someday.

How Does The Break Bread Break Borders Team Work?

At Break Bread Break Borders, the women usually spend a year learning about the ins and outs of the business and another year mentoring the new batch of cooks on the basics of working a catering service.

BBBB

The cooks don’t just bring food to the table at your catered event, they also bring their stories, their experiences, their culinary heritage and their aspirations. They get the mike to speak from their minds, and their hearts. There have been tough but needed conversations about the racism these families face, the Islamophobia they have to bear the brunt of and the complete xenophobic climate the country is experiencing.

This storytelling helps breakdown barriers and communicate important aspects of our society as a whole, through a positive enriching experience.

Jin-Ya Huang truly believes that these women can achieve anything in life and that this is only their stepping stone to success.

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