#Right2Work Dinner Sheds Light on Workers’ Plight

Filed under: Featured News,South Philadelphia,South Philly,Subject Categories |

By Eldon Graham

THE FOOD prepared for the dinner at the Aquinas Center was a six-course conversation-starter for those in attendance to learn more about right-to-work issues in Phila. and elsewhere in the United States. Photo by Eldon Graham

THE FOOD prepared for the dinner at the Aquinas Center was a six-course conversation-starter for those in attendance to learn more about right-to-work issues in Phila. and elsewhere in the United States. Photo by Eldon Graham

“Our focus is that work is a basic human right that should be accorded to everyone.” Those were the words spoken by Catzie Vilayphonh, the master of ceremonies for the #Right2Work Dinner held at the Aquinas Center at 1700 Fernon Street.

The event was the eleventh in a series created by Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers’ Rights, a group that brings awareness of undocumented workers’ inability to work legally to the restaurant industry, and aims to give undocumented workers a safe platform for sharing stories about their struggles in the industry.

As Stephanie Irwin, a co-host of the event, put it, “Right2Work is a way to educate and communicate about undocumented immigrants and immigration policies.”

Irwin spoke about the how far the group has come since the beginning: “It’s always been in Philadelphia but it’s been in different locations. We started in a pizza place with about 40 people, and now we are 200 people live in a hall,” she said excitedly.

Guests enjoyed a six-course dinner, prepared by some of the city’s best chefs, as they participated in an interactive panel discussion addressing the media’s unbalanced representation of people of color.

TOP CHEFS kept guests talking all evening with the trove of food they kept dishing out. Chefs included, Elijah Milligan, executive chef at Napa Valley’s Angele; Shola Olunloyo, of StudioKitchen fame; Cristina Martínez, of South Philly Barbacoa; Sweet Life Bakeshop’s Megan Kennedy; Tunde Wey from Lagos, Nigeria (Center); and Harold Villarosa, founder and chef of the New York nonprofit Insurgo. Photo by Eldon Graham

TOP CHEFS kept guests talking all evening with the trove of food they kept dishing out. Chefs included, Elijah Milligan, executive chef at Napa Valley’s Angele; Shola Olunloyo, of StudioKitchen fame; Cristina Martínez, of South Philly Barbacoa; Sweet Life Bakeshop’s Megan Kennedy; Tunde Wey from Lagos, Nigeria (Center); and Harold Villarosa, founder and chef of the New York nonprofit Insurgo. Photo by Eldon Graham

Featured guests included independent journalists Juan Escalante and Victoria Bouloubasis; chef Tunde Wey from Lagos, Nigeria; chef Harold Villarosa, founder and chef of the New York nonprofit Insurgo; and photographer Neal Santos.

The events of the evening began with the screening of a short documentary by Bouloubasis titled “La Comida de los Cocineros,” which translates to “The Food of the Cooks.”

The short documentary gave a glimpse into the life of a group of individuals leaving Mexico for North Carolina and how they have adapted to life in a new country by leaning on each other in the kitchen.

David Serrano, a part-time volunteer at the Aquinas Center, was present at the dinner and spoke on the center’s behalf. “At the Aquinas Center, we believe in unity and diversity,” Serrano said. “We also believe in the building of community and community work, in all things related to people having the basic needs of right.”

He touched on how the Aquinas Center and PAUWR share the same values and ideals, adding, “For us at the Aquinas Center, hosting an event like this is welcoming the different communities who are a part of Philadelphia – and also those who support those communities, who encourage change in those communities, who are working towards a better flourishing of the human person.”

At one point during the evening, Vilayphonh asked those in attendance to raise their hands if it was their first time coming to a #right2work dinner. Almost everyone raised their hands.

Vilayphonh is the founder of Laos In The House, an organization designed to bringing Lao Americans together and continuing their cultural legacy through the art of storytelling.

For Vilayphonh, hosting the event was the chance to communicate to a larger audience that “the situation is real, the fear is real, and the crisis is now.” Her speech at the beginning of the dinner held the crowd’s attention.

She told her own story of immigration to give others a sense of what the reality is for an undocumented individual. “My family came here as refugees,” she explained to the attendees. “So as someone who has grown up here and has had to translate at the immigration office, I know the laws very well. I’m always there for my parents, but not everyone has a person like me to help translate or give advice.”

Vilayphonh encouraged the audience to acknowledge some of the differences between themselves and their undocumented neighbors. “There’s been a recent rise in hate crimes and vandalism,” she pointed out. “Although you yourselves can call the police and say this is happening, please remember there are some of your undocumented neighbors who cannot do that. They cannot call in, they cannot give their names – they cannot say where they live. Remember that when there’s something you would like to protest, you have the ability to go hold signs and maybe be photographed and maybe arrested – but there are some people who cannot do that.”

Taking in each other’s company during the 11th #Right2Work Dinner were Neal Santos, food and drink photographer; Chef Tunde Wey; and Victoria Bouloubasis, food editor at Indy Week. Photo by Eldon Graham

Taking in each other’s company during the 11th #Right2Work Dinner were L-R, Neal Santos, food and drink photographer; Chef Tunde Wey; and Victoria Bouloubasis, food editor at Indy Week. Photo by Eldon Graham

The evening was as much for socializing as learning and enjoying a delicious array of food prepared by the diverse lineup of chef that included two of the panel speakers, chefs Wey and Villarosa.

Others chefs included Elijah Milligan, executive chef at Napa Valley’s Angele, who prepared the third course of roasted turkey, pumpkin mash, black walnut smoked cranberries and scallion pistou. Shola Olunloyo, of StudioKitchen fame, cooked the fourth course, which turned out to be pork carnitas stew, cauliflower peanut butter, pickled onions and cilantro. Cristina Martínez, of South Philly Barbacoa, made the fifth course of lamb barbacoa. Sweet Life Bakeshop’s Megan Kennedy made caramel banana pudding with sweet potato pecan pie. Wey and Villarosa handled the first and second courses, serving up roasted sunchoke with mole, salsa roja caviar and lime crema, and coconut bean pudding and offal sauce.

Maria Grande and her ensemble played jazz compositions written specifically for the event.

You can reach Eldon Graham at egraham@phillyrecord.com.

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