By Mauricio Calvo, Latino Memphis
Memphis is known for its musical heritage, its civil rights history and its barbecue, but most importantly for its soul. The rich culture is one of the reasons I love living here and raising my family here. I also love how diverse my city is. Whether you flock to Graceland or are more interested in learning about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination at the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis has something for everyone. In a time when our country feels like it’s becoming more and more polarized, my team and I at Latino Memphis wanted to find a way to bring folks together and celebrate our commonalities and our differences. What better way than over a meal!
We decided to host a Recipe for Unity dinner, modeled after what our friends at Conexión Américas did in Nashville. Recipe for Unity originated from the Rise Above initiative, launched by UnidosUS in 2017, to encourage Americans to “rise above” racial, political and policy differences and unite around a positive vision of the future. We bring people together from all walks of life to enjoy a meal together and find shared values and strength through diversity.
I worked with an amazing group of people. The team divided up responsibilities – some were in charge of inviting guests, others in securing a location for the event, and others thinking through how we would make that space as welcoming as possible. Let me tell you, this remarkable group of people pulled off an inspiring dinner. We welcomed guests with a taste of coquito, a traditional Puerto Rican cocktail, and the lovely music of Kenna Garcia-Chelsoi. Our table was set with a patchwork of plates and napkins that visually represented the mosaic of people sharing a meal together.
That leads me to my favorite part. The table was full with our incredible guests and all the tasty dishes they each contributed to the meal. We were joined by people of several faiths like Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews; people from black, white, LGBT, Latino and Middle Eastern communities; people whose families have lived in Memphis for generations and those who are more recent immigrants; old and young, male and female; I could go on and on. I wish everyone in Memphis could have seen how perfectly our community was represented around the table.
And let me tell you, the dishes were delicious. We tasted foods that some might consider traditional to Memphis like fried chicken, barbecue, meatballs and fudge pie, and others that are just as common nowadays like arroz con gandules, saffron risotto and Ethiopian spicy lentils. As everyone shared the dishes they made, we learned about the significance of the dish to each guest’s family, region or cultural tradition. Here are just a couple of the quotes I remember from our inspiring discussion.
“My mother is Nicaraguan and my father is Italian. I grew up in Nicaragua, and I brought grilled artichokes and dip tonight. The artichokes are my father’s Italian recipe and the dip is my mother’s recipe. To me they are a symbol – a symbol that says we are more than our first nationality. We are a combination of love and culture – and that is what makes us so unique and so beautiful.” – Lucia Heros
“I brought chili because, like us, the separate ingredients are good by themselves, but together they are even better.” – Teshanda Middleton
I know everyone who attended enjoyed themselves as much as I did. So much so, some guests are already planning their own Recipe for Unity dinners. That couldn’t make me happier. I can’t wait to host another dinner and I encourage anyone interested to host their own.
Download the Recipe for Unity toolkit to find out just how easy it is to host your own dinner.