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Immigrants and our food

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Even though we’d been going to the same restaurant for years, I hadn’t noticed a little message at the bottom that read:  “Today’s menu was made possible by immigrants.”

I left a tip for our waiter, signed and exited the restaurant, surprised at my own level of elation to see a small shoutout to the immigrants who are undeniably the backbone of so many businesses in this valley

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It is just one simple sentence, but the message is clear. It’s a small token of gratitude and really, one that I think is long overdue. I suppose it’s difficult to remain unmoved when I hail from a family of immigrants that does the kind of work that frankly not many white folks are lining up to do. 

For a business to recognize the work of immigrants while our current president paints them as dangerous and unworthy — and while hate crimes are up — is a bold move. It’s doubly daring because let’s face it, not every patron of the restaurant cares to see this group of people get kudos for their hard work. Many people out there are against immigration and may not continue to support a business that makes them think of how they are benefiting from the very people that they hold in contempt.

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Honestly, I’m baffled by how clearly interwoven into our food system immigrants are, but how there continues to be so many myopic  Americans who would prefer denial as long as they are getting their creature comforts in a timely, delicious manner.

Maybe it’s the saturated fat in their juicy hamburger and fries that bogs down their brains and makes them forget that most likely it was immigrants who were responsible for getting that meal on the table in some manner or another. Our food system – from the farmers planting the seeds to men and women (and even children) picking the produce, to the delivery truck drivers to the cooks and the dishwashers, simply could not function without the involvement of immigrant labor.

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Let me add that all immigrants, regardless of legal status, contribute to the American economy.  The 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. today contribute over $11 billion in state and local taxes. The Social Security Administration estimates that unauthorized immigrants contribute $13 billion in payroll taxes annually, which only serves to strengthen the Social Security system.

Furthermore, this type of small recognition is more than just a shoutout. I see it as an attempt to add awareness. Maybe a small way to replace animosity where there should be more gratitude instead.

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And how cool would it be if more local business followed suit? What if we saw more signs that read things like, “the cleanliness of this hotel is maintained largely by immigrant workers.” Or, “these homes were built in large part with the help of immigrant labor.” Would there be less resentment towards immigrants? I think it could help.

In all the years I’ve lived and worked in this valley, I have never noticed a business give such a visible acknowledgment to a population that is constantly criticized in the media, has been at the core of a national debate for decades  and, in my opinion, is largely underappreciated.

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I challenge more business out there follow in these footsteps. If you appreciate the immigrants who are there for you and your business every day, say so. Help connect the dots in people’s minds during this era where people just like my familia are so often the brunt of often unfair criticism and blatant hatred. Help remind all of us during this season of giving and gratitude that immigrants have historically played an important role in the building of the United States, and they continue to give so much of themselves today.

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