Life in the city can be bitter, but a good meal with friends can make any day worth savoring. In the Migrant Kitchens series, documentary filmmaker Sarah Khan traces the outline of the ever-changing American appetitte, with a culinary tour of the many tastes, smells and sounds of people who have struggled to put food on the table but never forgotten the true meaning of nourishment. She has been roaming around the borough of Queens--a polgyglot universe of tastes spanninng 2 million people, from every region of the planet, speaking in 160 different tongues--with her senses wide open.
A common ingredient in the cuisines and cooking cultures she explores is an element of the forbidden; hawking tamales on the streets of Queens often involves outrunning the cops. Breaking your community out of the toxic burden of the hyper-commercialized food industry demands unlearning generations of cooking convention and unearthing the long-buried roots of the family farm.
Migrant Kitchens, Khan explains, is driven by a passion for telling "individual and community stories." As a fellow with the Asian American Writers Workshop, she and her research team have used narrative storytelling, photography, video and data mapping "to share stories about marginalized people or forgotten histories," looking at a tapestry of heritages with an eye toward contemporary politics:
"More than ever, migrants and their rights are under siege in the United States. We are all migrants, descendants of migrants,or descendants of the enslaved—unless our ancestors were the first Native inhabitants—themselves Asian immigrants. To counter media negativity and lack of diverse stories, I launched Migrant Kitchens Series to make invisible migrants visible, bear witness, relay their stories, and reveal the human and daily struggles they encounter as multicultural North Americans."
From the grassy outskirts of Atlanta to the underpass of a Queens trainline, cooking through the migrant experience is an exercise in insatiable curiosity.
--Michelle Chen, June 15, 2017
Rashid Nuri of Truly Living Well has a long career in government and private sector. In this short film clip, Nuri describes why all people should have a right to healthy food, urban or rural, and he shares how he and his community are doing it in the heart of downtown Atlanta. Read more about the rediscovery of farming cultures of color at Zester Daily.
Évelia, who sells tamales at the intersection of Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue, began with a grocery cart and no permit. Her story is a typical one. She arrived from Mexico in 2000. “When they arrested me [for operating without a permit], I really felt horrible,” she says. “I cried. But I had this courage inside. I decided to sell the next day.” After harassment from police, more arrests, obtaining black-market permits and contending with angry restaurant owners, she can finally sell her tamales legally."
Read more stories of migrant street vendors at Culinary Backstreets.
To further explore the migrant kitchen, view the whole series at sarahkkhan.com