By Manuel Ayala
Tijuana, Mexico, Sep 7 (EFE).- Migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, India, Greece and countries of the Muslim world gathered Wednesday at a fair in this northwestern border city to showcase the culinary contributions of their homelands.
“When you’re far from your country, what you miss the most, apart from your family, is the food,” Lilia Mejia, a Honduras native, told Efe, adding that keeping that tradition alive is important in uniting people who have relocated abroad.
The city is accustomed to images of migrant camps, caravans, overcrowded shelters and deportations, Enrique Lucero Vazquez, Tijuana’s director of migrant services, said in an interview with Efe.
In that regard, he noted that the fair is aimed at “showcasing the success of the migrant community in Tijuana and their contributions.”
“Because they also create jobs, pay taxes and give the city that gastronomic and cultural diversity. And at the end of the day they become their countries’ best ambassadors,” Lucero Vazquez added.
Mejia, who started a restaurant serving Honduran cuisine eight years ago, told Efe her business has been doing “very well” and that the key has been to make migrants from her country feel at home at the establishment.
Hondurans who may be alone in Mexico find a bit of “company,” while Mexicans enjoy the flavor of a new cuisine, she said, noting that “a lot of people are learning about our food and that makes you happy, having something to offer.”
Mejia also recalled providing food to a migrant caravan that arrived in Tijuana in 2018, saying that was an moving experience “because I also know the situation in my country.”
Javier Prada, a native of Costa Rica, said serving one’s native cuisine in another country means “breaking down gastronomic barriers, because Mexico’s culinary tradition is totally different from that of Central America.”
Prada and his wife have operated a “food truck” for the past four years in Tijuana, selling traditional dishes from their home country as well as from Nicaragua and El Salvador.
People seek them out “because they like our food and we’ve made a good connection with some of dishes we offer,” he said.
Venezuela’s Marsellesa Olivia, for her part, told Efe that a “good thing about having a food stall is that it bring people together.”
“We all understand each other just how we are, even though we’re from different countries.”
“When we’re away from our country, we miss our food. And since we started seeing more and more of our countrymen arriving, we starting making empanadas, which are the typical Venezuelan breakfast. It’s surprising that more and more of our countrymen are seeking us out, and how one person tells another and the news spreads,” she said.
Lucero Vasquez added that another aim of this inaugural International Gastronomy Fair is to create a registry of migrant entrepreneurs and assist them with their business ventures.
“Most are small eateries with just a few years in operation. Some had to close due to the pandemic, and the municipal government wants to provide that support with everything they need to continue to have success and consolidate themselves as a restaurant in the city,” he said. EFE