07
May
17

A Mission To Make More Neighbors, Not More Enemies

Chef Martha Lou Gadsden, center. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Cynthia Pristell and I with Chef Martha Lou Gadsden, center, at Martha Lou’s Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

At a time when it seems our president is trying to make as many enemies as possible, it occurred to me that now is an excellent time to make more friends. I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone convince me that I should be afraid of anyone without a really good reason, and the color of their skin, their religion, who they love, or the fact that they are desperate for a better, or safer, life for themselves and their families is not a reason at all to fear someone, left alone a really good reason. Some of the most wonderful experiences of my life have happened because I have ignored someone else’s fears and decided to go to that place — to meet the people there anyway. From the south side of Chicago to the 69th Street Station in West Philly; from Rosedale, Mississippi to Central Kentucky; from the South Bronx to Macon, Georgia, I have had people tell me I should be afraid — that I shouldn’t go there — and I went anyway, only to enjoy some of the richest experiences of my life.

James Robinson and I with Ms. Izola White, owner of Izola’s Family Dining, known to locals as “Ms. Izola’s,” on South 79th Street in Chicago’s South Side. Photo copyright 2005 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Now, our president wants me to fear anyone from six predominantly Muslim countries for no other reason than he says so, and, I guess, because these countries lack Trump hotels. He wants me to fear undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and he calls them rapists and murderers without foundation. He wants me to fear refuges fleeing their war-torn homelands in places like Syria, Somalia and Yemen because they are Muslim. He wants me to fear these people and more without a really good reason, while he wants me to trust him without a really good reason either. But I prefer to subscribe to the sound words of the man who pulled us out of the Great Depression, won WWII and invested in America’s infrastructure on a scale the likes of which we had never seen, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Not just a timeless quotable, these words represent a way of thinking that is a polar opposite to what we see coming out of Washington, DC at present.

The Todd Brothers playing “Rook” at the Block House in Hernando, Mississipp. Photo copyright 2014 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Instead of succumbing to fear of these people, then, why not embrace them? Why not befriend them? Why not reach out to them, like good neighbors, and share with them, learn from them, and enjoy them? What have we got to lose, but a few more enemies? And one of the best ways I’ve found to make friends over the years is to break bread with people. Few things are more powerful bridge building tools than food, and where there are immigrants, there are not only new foods to be tried, but also new friends to be made.

Chef Tamara Murphy (right), server, Hassan (center,) and I at Juba Restaurant & Café, a Somali eatery in Seatac, Washington. Photo copyright 2017 by Zachary D. Lyons.

My friend and neighbor, Chef Tamara Murphy, had expressed a similar feeling in a New Year’s resolution in the Seattle Times at the beginning of this year in which she said she would like to “experience at least one new ethnic restaurant per month, and get to know the owners and learn more about their food.” So I reached out to her to see if she wanted to join me in exploring the immigrant communities in the Seattle area. Our first adventure was on Friday, February 24, 2017, to a restaurant in a Somali immigrant community in the city of Seatac, just south of Seattle. This would serve as the genesis of my series here, called Making Neighborhoods, because after all, that is what are doing.

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