Loss of Anthony Bourdain is a Blow to Immigrant Communities

Earlier this month, the world lost culinary extraordinaire and world traveler Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain had a unique ability to use cuisines from around the globe as a means to bridge the gaps between cultures.

Still, it is not just the gastronomes and wanderlusts of the world who will miss the celebrity chef. Bourdain was also a stalwart advocate for immigrant workers, especially the low-wage Latino workers who wash dishes and bus tables at restaurants throughout the United States. Bourdain recognized that, not only are immigrants from Mexico and Central America often working in these tough, largely unappreciated positions, but they then face derision and thinly disguised racism from the very people they serve. “Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children,” Bourdain noted in a 2014 blog post. “Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are stealing American jobs. But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had one American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position, or even a job as prep cook.”

Bourdain frequently championed the need for compassionate immigration reform. He understood that immigrants are what make this nation strong, including those immigrants forced to hide in the shadows. This, of course, put him in direct opposition with the policies of President Trump. “If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant in America would shut down.” [See Anthony Bourdain’s Death Means Loss of a Voice for Immigrant Workers, CBS/AP, 11.Jun.2018.]

Bourdain also worked tirelessly to shine a compassionate light on marginalized communities around the world. He showed us that the shortest distance between people is a shared meal – even people with opposing views. Food is among the best ways to understand another culture, and understanding other cultures is crucial for peace and harmony. Tony was an ambassador.

Eddie Huang, a celebrity chef in his own right and creator of the hit ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, was close friends with Bourdain, and recently wrote a touching tribute to him for Rolling Stone:

It was the No Reservations: Asia, Anthony Bourdain’s 2006 two-hour special that brought my entire family together for the first time in front of a TV since I’d moved out of the house. We were all apprehensive as he trekked through our motherland, anxious and worried about whether he would appreciate it. For a lot of immigrants, there’s shame when your third-world homeland is seen through a Western lens on national television. Most restaurants don’t want to be on camera for fear that they’re going to end up on Geraldo or god forbid some local news report about health code violations. But there was something about Tony that screamed, “I’m not like other white people. I’m not here to laugh at you.” He didn’t see dirty immigrants and aliens; he saw fully formed 360-degree humans containing old ways and wisdom manifested in food.[See Eddie Huang Remembers Anthony Bourdain, Rolling Stone, by Eddie Huant, 08.Jun.2018.]

At the end, Bourdain apparently carried with him an inner despair that was more than he could bear. But, his legacy of giving voice to the voiceless lives on.

 

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