Tijuana Migrant Food Fair showcases culinary traditions from around the world

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Even as Erana Davilus laughed and chatted with customers at the Tijuana food court — smiling as she served fried plantains and other authentic Haitian dishes — her heart ached for her young children still in Haiti.

Migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, India, Greece and Turkey came together for two days last week to promote some of the iconic dishes who represent their country of origin. Tijuana city officials said it was the first international food fair to be held at City Hall.

“Sometimes I’m very sad because my children are still not with me,” Davilus said, thinking of her youngest child who is 11. Davilus spoke in Spanish, but said she didn’t speak that language perfectly. She also speaks English, French and Haitian Creole.

Migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela and others gathered to cook their ethnic dishes on September 7 during the 1st International Food and Culture Fair in Tijuana.

(Carlos Moreno/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I had to dedicate myself to work because it’s so difficult to want to see your children and not have them with you. It’s very complicated to always have these thoughts, but I don’t despair; I work at this restaurant,” she said, referring to her bright red shirt that bore Labadee’s name.

It’s a popular beach in Haiti and also the name of the small downtown restaurant that has become a culinary embassy for the Caribbean community on the border. Located on Second Street, between Negrete and Ocampo, the establishment has been a meeting place for the Haitian community of Tijuana since its opening in 2017.

Tijuana, Baja California (Carlos Moreno/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Carolina Vega, a Salvadoran migrant, prepares pupusas from the stand of the Pupuseria El Salvador TJ restaurant.

(Carlos Moreno/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

The city is used to sad or negative images of migrant camps, caravans, overcrowded shelters and deportations, said Enrique Lucero Vázquez, Tijuana’s director of migrant services. But the food fair aims to “showcase the success of the migrant community in Tijuana and their contributions.”

He said there were 18 food stalls, representing at least 12 different countries.

“The idea is to support them because they are small entrepreneurs. They are not big restaurant chains,” said Lucero Vázquez. “They are small businesses, so this is also about getting more people to know about them and growing their business.

“Because they also create jobs, pay taxes and give the city this gastronomic and cultural diversity,” he added. “And ultimately, they become their country’s best ambassadors.” The event cooks sold 2,500 plates of food, attracting new diners to different types of cuisine.

“It’s also good for Tijuanese to see this variety of food because they’re so used to tacos and seafood,” he joked.

Although it was a kind gesture and a lively two-day event, Lucero Vázquez said he recognizes there is still a lot of work to be done in the border community where migrants, and especially Haitian migrants, often face discrimination and systemic racism.

The nonprofit Haitian Bridge Alliance, with offices in San Diego and Tijuana, helps cover funeral costs for deaths that could have been avoided were it not for the overlapping effects of U.S. border policies and the systemic racism in Mexico.

Between December 2021 and June 2022, the organization had to bear the costs of 12 of these funerals, according to information that Vivianne Petit-frère entrusted to Union-Tribune in June. Little brother is a community liaison officer with the agency based south of the border. She herself is a migrant trying to reach the United States.

Lucero Vázquez said it is illegal for hospitals and medical clinics to turn away anyone seeking medical care, regardless of what migration documents they have or not, but advocates say it often happens anyway .

The director of migrant services agreed that more education was needed and admitted that Haitians and other migrants were being denied services. He said it’s because companies ignore or disregard anti-discrimination laws.

Guerline Jozef, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said she was working to strengthen relations between the city government and the Haitian community in Tijuana, and was pleased with the event.

“It was really refreshing to see a new representation of the immigrant community and the migrant community of Baja California and Tijuana through this culinary exhibit. It was also great to see Haitian cuisine represented, but at the same time, he pointed out that there is still a lot of work to be done to fight anti-black and anti-Haitian discrimination across Mexico,” said Joseph.

“As Mr. Lucero said, the government doesn’t discriminate, but the service providers do. That’s why we look forward to working with his office to ensure that service providers follow the laws and ensure that black people and other migrants are not violated.

Tijuana, Baja California - September 7: (Carlos Moreno/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Above the Tijuana City Hall food court, one could see a stark contrast between migrants asking for services and assistance from the Department of Migrant Attention.

(Carlos Moreno/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

As the party unfolded downstairs, a small gathering of migrants waited upstairs in the sweltering heat for migrant services for a variety of needs – from placement in a shelter to obtaining documents. A baby played with an empty water jug ​​prepared for the group, while his father tried to get cell phone service to fill out a document.

The day after the food fair, a group of more than 80 migrants, including newborns and children, who had been displaced by the violence in southern Mexico, had been waiting since dawn in hot weather for city authorities help them. They said they had spent the previous few nights on the streets because they couldn’t find accommodation.

Lucero Vázquez said his staff was able to find shelters for the group, which was split up and placed in three shelters: Centro Integrador Para el Migrantes Carmen Serdán; Oratorio Salesiano Don Bosco; and Desayunador del Padre Chava.

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