November 14, 2016
Benjamin Miller, co-owner of South Philly Barbacoa, a hole-in-the-wall, yet nationally acclaimed Mexican eatery in South Philadelphia that he runs with his wife, Cristina Martinez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, published a first-person opinion piece for Bon Appétit in the days following the presidential election of Donald J. Trump.
Miller details the couple's reaction to learning Trump won the election, and he discusses what he believes it could mean for the restaurant industry's undocumented immigrants, like his wife, given Trump’s campaign promises regarding illegal immigration.
“Together we’ve built a successful restaurant, despite Cristina's status as an undocumented immigrant,” he writes early on in the piece. He explains how the two fell in love working in a restaurant kitchen (where Matinez would later be fired over lack of documentation) and touches on his wife's strong work ethic – "She works longer and harder than I can even push myself to: 3 a.m. until 11 p.m., back-to-back-to-back, with catering events thrown in.”
“It’s a common saying not to 'mix business and politics,' and so many restaurants are neutral on almost all issues. But as chefs and restaurant owners, we can no longer ignore the political nature of our work," - Benjamin Miller, South Philly Barbacoa co-owner.
Marinez came to the United States in 2006 to make money to put her daughter through nursing school, Miller explains. He goes on to say that her daughter, Karla, now in graduate school, remains in Mexico, and the two haven’t seen each other “because Cristina can’t travel to Mexico without being stuck there, and Karla can’t get a tourist VISA."
A main part of Miller’s piece highlights how he and Martinez have been using their restaurant as a gathering space to dispel fear and inspire action.
“It’s a common saying not to 'mix business and politics,' and so many restaurants are neutral on almost all issues. But as chefs and restaurant owners, we can no longer ignore the political nature of our work," he writes. "We have an obligation to demonstrate what we believe in through our business and the management of our restaurants, and use our voice for those who don't have a voice in our democracy.”
The two started a dinner series called #Right2Work “as a way to advocate that working is a human right, regardless of immigration status.” Bon Appetit reports their #Right2Work dinners will be held in New York City on May 1, Atlanta on Sept. 1, San Francisco on Nov. 22 and in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18, 2018.
“As restaurant owners and organizers, our job is now more important than ever. Restaurants are gathering places for people, to meet, talk, and enjoy food, to nourish their bodies and spirits. It's in our hands to create safe, welcoming spaces and to use our restaurants as a platform for our social ideals.”
Read the full piece at Bon Appétit.