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Juan Ramirez

Feeding Social Justice to the Masses

Sept 16, 2017 at 3:30pm


JUAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm Juan Ramirez. I am the producer of the Racist Sandwich. I do want to ask you if you do have a cell phone with internet, to head over to my website, And I have a small little slide there. If you want to follow along with me. So, the Racist Sandwich podcast. A queer woman, a Muslim, an undocumented immigrant have a podcast. Right? So... I'm gonna talk about three things. Migrating to a food desert, the tour guide syndrome, and the healing process. When I was 10 years old, my parents brought me to the US. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. When I was going to school, I would take the bus to go to the West Side of LA. To get a better education. Still LAUSD system. Los Angeles School Unified System. When I would come back home, I would get off at the stop where there was a Plaza. A market Plaza. In this Plaza, they had a fast food Chinese joint. A doughnut place. A dental clinic. And a liquor store. So every time I would get off the bus, I would head towards one of my favorite places. Which was the doughnut spot. But I noticed one thing as a young kid. Is that... The most colorful, the most fluorescent store or business in that Plaza was the liquor store. Right? To me, at that young age, that was a sign that there was something wrong.

JUAN: So a food desert, as described by the USDA, is limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly in an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities. Which was my community. Still is. Right? So... For us to get food, we'd have to take a bus. It would take... It was a 15-minute ride to go to a Food For Less. We had another store. It was called Ralph's. That was closed down, and they opened a Ross instead. So now we just had one store for us to get our food. In 2006, my senior year in high school, I got involved with this urban garden called the South Central Farm. The South Central Farm was a two-acre farm, or land that was given to the residents of South Central. So they can grow their own food. Now, in 2006, that was revoked. They closed down this community garden. And it's 2017. It's still a desert. Nothing has happened. So that was our food oasis. Per se. In Oregon—or in Portland—there are two places where we have a food desert. That's in Northeast Portland and Northwest Portland, towards Forest Grove area. So if you think about the population that live in these two areas, you'll see that they're predominantly people of color. Displaced people. Forest Grove might not necessarily just have people of color. But Forest Grove has a large majority of undocumented immigrants that work in the fields. That don't have transportation, because what? Oregon does not have driver's license for undocumented people. The only state in the West Coast. So to move on from migration, or migrating to a food desert, to the tour guide syndrome. White supremacy, Rick Bayless, and the chicken men. So my old neighborhood—there is this restaurant that I grew up with. Louisiana's Fried Chicken. You see, I grew up with southern American food, as a Mexican immigrant, because the Black community and my community had to live amongst each other. Right? South Central is a Black and Latino—not just Latino, but immigrant community. Right? So Louisiana Fried Chicken. Trip out on this. Fried chicken, served by Cambodian refugees to Black and Latino customers from a chain founded by a white man from Michigan. That was from the LA Times.

JUAN: So... I'm gonna talk about the wealth gap. Right? Because people of color are less likely to get a business loan, which are based on good credit, collateral documentation, and in some cases cash flow forecast. So imagine opening up a business, right, in your own neighborhood, but you can't, because you still need to get that... You still need to have that good credit. You need to have a cash flow forecast. Like... How is that gonna happen? So this meant... This story... This man basically stole this recipe from another chef, a person of color, and opened up a restaurant in South Central. The first restaurant. And now he has chains of this restaurant. And to this day, a lot of the workers in these restaurants are Asian-Americans. If you go to, like, at least three of these locations in that neighborhood, they're all served by Asian-Americans. Served to, again, Black and Latino population. So what I wanted to go with this was... To talk about not just the wealth gap with that, but also the dynamic of—the power dynamic that some of these people have with the community of color. It's that you'll see cases such as... The TacoGate that happened earlier this year in Portland. Where these two white women started selling street food here in Portland. Right?

JUAN: But when we talk about why race matters, it's when you look into these types of problems that exist. One, again, how do you get a business loan? Right? And then... I mean, that's one of the main ones. And so I'll speak... I'll go a little bit forward and talk about Rick Bayless. And Rick Bayless is a chef. Has a show on a network. Public network. And I wanted to talk about him specifically, because he did an episode on Puerto Escondido. That's the place where I'm from. Oaxaca, which was the state that was recently hit by the earthquake last week. It's a coastal town. And so Rick Bayless did a show there about cooking fish. Right? There's a traditional way of cooking fish in my hometown. So the way that he cooked his fish was from a chimney. So you had a chimney, and he was cooking this fish. But the reason why I wanted to speak about him is because there is this Guide Complex. That I have the power to take you to a place that you've already been. The USA is so... I forget the word here. But we have so much to contribute, with so many writers. So many writers of color and producers of color. That it takes this one white man to go to a small town in Mexico to produce a story on how to fry fish. So... For me, it's very important to bring that up. And the guy said that race was not a factor. So the healing process is here. Feminism, right? There's a quote from Edwidge Danticat. Who argues that: Cooking is writing. Women's food preparation becomes a historical text and mode of communication that helps to heal the experience of oppression. Right?

JUAN: And for me, I go back to that quote and think about mole. Right? Mole is one of those traditional foods that takes weeks to prepare. So mole is you and your Grandma, in the kitchen, for weeks. So that's a personal connection you'll have. With your family. To create something. So a 20-minute video of a man cooking a fish does not justify a two-week... I don't know... Kitchen time with your family. So for us, food is healing. Food is story. Food is history for us. And all I want to say is that... These food writers or people who always come up to us and tell us, “Hey, can I cook that food? Is it bad to cook that food? Am I—I don't know—being disrespectful by cooking that food?” It's not. Cook your food. Do your thing. Just... If you're gonna open up a business, you have to know this before you open up your business. It's that... There's consequences. You can't just take something and run with it, because there's already roots founded in that. With that being said, I want to thank you guys for having me here.

Juan Ramirez

Headshot of Juan Ramirez

Juan is the producer of the Racist Sandwich Podcast. He occasionally writes for Latino Rebels and currently works for the Migrant Education Program.