Bourdain’s death means loss of a voice for immigrant workers
By TERRY TANG
Sunday, June 10
Anthony Bourdain’s culinary passions went far beyond the cuisine he put on a plate. He also was committed to the immigrant workers who toil in his and other kitchens throughout the restaurant industry.
Bourdain, who died Friday in France in an apparent suicide at age 61, was an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and a fierce defender of Hispanic workers.
The chef, global traveler and author, whose popularity grew with his CNN series “Parts Unknown,” often was the first to tip his hat to his employees from Central America or Mexico. He promoted his Mexican-born sous chef, the late Carlos Llaguno Garcia, to run two of his New York restaurants and complained loudly about the United States’ “ridiculously hypocritical attitudes” toward immigration.
“Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are stealing American jobs,” Bourdain said in 2014. “But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had one American kid walk in my door and apply for a dish-washing job, a porter’s position or even a job as prep cook.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign season, Bourdain slammed Trump’s promises to deport immigrants in the U.S. illegally and build a wall along the Mexican border.
“If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant in America would shut down,” Bourdain said in an interview with SiriusXM radio.
Trump has said the wall is needed to keep immigrants and drugs out of the U.S. and his policies are designed to keep the country safe.
Julian Medina, the owner of eight Mexican restaurants in New York, said he and Bourdain crossed paths a few times at industry events.
“The Latino community was very important to him because in the kitchens of New York there are many Latinos,” Medina said. “He supported that because he always worked beside a Latino and put Carlos in charge of his kitchen.”
Saul Montiel, executive chef at the Mexican restaurant Cantina Roof Top in Manhattan, said Garcia, who died of cancer in 2015, always spoke highly of Bourdain. For an episode of Bourdain’s Travel Channel show, “No Reservations,” Garcia gave Bourdain a tour of his hometown, Puebla. Bourdain claimed all the best cooks in his New York restaurants came from there.
Montiel, who started in the business washing dishes 15 years ago, said Bourdain was “one of the few chefs that valued the work of the Latinos in the kitchen.”
“There are many chefs,” he said, “that never recognize the hard work of the Hispanics.”
Mel Mecinas, an executive chef in Scottsdale, Arizona, who was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, remembers when Bourdain featured his home state on “Parts Unknown.” He liked that Bourdain went to smaller villages and wasn’t afraid to sit on the floor and eat, sampling traditional dishes such as tamales with mole negro sauce wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks.
“When he goes somewhere, he always finds the place where he can find the root of the culture,” Mecinas said. “I was so impressed about how down-to-earth he is and his sense of humor.”
Occasionally, Bourdain’s penchant to spotlight minorities attracted a backlash. Last year, a blogger accused him of banning white chefs from getting exposure on a “Parts Unknown” episode on Houston’s culinary scene. Bourdain responded on Twitter, calling it “shameful, dishonest race-baiting click bait.”
Latinos weren’t the only minority group that embraced Bourdain. Jason Wang, CEO of Xi’an Famous Foods in New York, planned to donate profits at all its locations on Friday to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
In a Facebook post, Wang said Bourdain’s impact on his family’s Chinese street food business was immeasurable. In 2007, Bourdain endorsed the Wangs’ basement food stall, which served lamb noodle soup with hand-ripped noodles on “No Reservations.”
The bump in business was swift. Wang and his father gradually went from that stall to six eateries. In 2015, Wang had the chance to relay his gratitude in person.
“I looked at him in the eyes and said, ‘this is something we will always be thankful for Tony,’” Wang wrote. “And he simply replied, ‘I’m just calling out good food like it is, that’s all.’”
Associated Press editor Sigal Ratner-Arias in New York contributed to this report.
The increasing foreign military and economic engagement in Africa
By Foday Darboe
Between late 19th and early 20th centuries, Africa was apportioned by several European powers— the practice became known as the “Scramble for Africa” or “Race for Africa.” The rush for resources and territories frequently destroyed the indigenous economic, social and political institutions. Many critics in Africa and elsewhere still blame the immoral structures of colonialism for some of the existing economic and political shortcomings in many of the African countries. In recent years, Africa has become a hot spot for increased economic and military activities; some neocolonial powers and multinational corporations are again usurping African states, extracting rich natural resources in exchange for arms, loans, or infrastructural development.
Debates across the continent over these initiatives are ongoing. While the continent is seeing a significant economic growth rate, the questions we ought to ask are: How is the economic growth improving the lives of average Africans? Should Africans worry about the increasing foreign military engagement across Africa?
The United States, China, United Kingdom, France, India, Saudi Arabia are expanding their economic and military footprints across the continent. For decades, Africa was perceived as a hopeless basket case—and was mostly dealt with in matters of peacekeeping, humanitarian missions, and resource extractions. Now, changing world geo-economics has rapidly changed; Africa has become strategically important.
In the past decades, the United States-Africa relations was mainly focused on militarized national security strategy. The U.S. African Command Center (AFRICOM), based in Djibouti, exemplifies the U.S. “national security” interests in the region. For instance, the U.S. has established several temporary posts, using Special Forces and drones, supporting proxy armies across Africa. US-based corporations are tapping into Africa’s natural resource sectors and have vital interests in key resource-producing regions. The U.S. is also countering Beijing’s growing influence across Africa as China poses a strong challenge to U.S. interests in many countries on the continent, even planting its military there.
China has outperformed the United States economically and politically across Africa—and Beijing is playing a major role in economic development, politics, peace and security matters in general. Nonetheless, critics, argued that China’s noninterference policy and regard for self-determination allow aid to be allocated without conditions—giving authoritarian leaders in countries like Chad, Djibouti, Republic of Congo, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Zimbabwe much-needed funding—often used to continue to oppress their own people. China and the US frame it as contest between the two powers, but what of the people of Africa?
France, too, has boosted its military footprints in some of its former colonies. Given its longstanding history in Francophone Africa, France strengthened its influence by preserving vital economic structure, disbursing economic support and building influential social systems and institutions. Also, deep-rooted French business interests, and close personal dealings between the ruling elites contribute to the continuance of France’s primacy in portions of West Africa and the Congo basin in particular. Such relationship gives leaders like Chad’s Idriss Déby, DRC’s Joseph Kabila, the Republic of Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Djibouti’s Ismaïl Omar Guelleh some security and a pass on their poor human rights record. To a lesser degree, India, Japan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia are also increasingly expanding their economic and military interests in some parts of Africa. For instance, Saudi Arabia is using Djibouti’s waterways between the Arabian Peninsula and northeast Africa to fight Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The war on terror has given the United States, France, and allies a pretext for establishing a strong military presence in Africa—but this could create a backlash and essentially help terrorist groups in their recruitment. What the continent needs least is foreign militarization. While there is an argument to be made about the rise of terrorism in Africa, however, there is no silver bullet in fighting terrorism anywhere in the world as the experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries have shown. From a policy standpoint, if the spread of terrorism in Africa is an utmost concern for the United States, France, United Kingdom et al., a comprehensive economic and social development blueprint must be developed that earnestly addressed long-term objectives, basic human needs, deeply held grievances and root causes of terrorism in Africa. Drone warfare is decidedly unhelpful, alienating hearts and minds every time an African child is collateral damage.
Resource-rich Africa should graduate from foreign aid and its concomitant culture of dependency. Africans must collectively advocate for institutional reforms that hold African leaders and multinational corporations accountable as well as more inclusion of civil society and interest groups in policy making. The bad old ways of corruption, kleptocracy, exploitation and brutal rule must give way to transparency, human rights, and civil society economic and political empowerment, country by country and insofar as possible, continent-wide.
Foday J. Darboe is a doctoral candidate in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Nova Southeastern University.