Jin-Ya Huang: Break Bread, Break Borders
Founded in 2017, Break Bread, Break Borders (BBBB) is a catering company with a cause. It is a social justice enterprise, designed to economically empower refugee women in the Vickery Meadow community in Dallas/Fort Worth, and led by artist Jin-Ya Huang. Through powerful storytelling, food, and culture, BBBB aims to break bread with the community and break down borders at the same time.
BBBB provides training, certification, and professional mentorship to women from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and the Congo. The community cooks don’t just drop off the food when they cater, they stick around to tell the diners stories about the food they made, its heritage, and history. They also share their own stories: about their lives abroad; who they were before their journeys; what they had to do escape war-torn countries; how they lived as refugees abroad; and now their lives in the US, and their experience cooking with Break Break, Break Borders.
Where – in what community – do you primarily do your work?
Break Bread, Break Borders serves the people of Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. The state of Texas on an average, takes in about 8.5 percent of the U.S. total number of refugees in the nation, according to the United States High Commission for Refugees. In 2018, Dallas alone resettled 695 refugees, while Ft. Worth resettled 416, the top and third highest resettlement cities in Texas, according to data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
What gets you going each day and inspires your current work?
My mom, Margaret Huang. Her abilities to collaborate and selflessly serve the community, like many of the people we work with every day, is inspiring to us. She was an amazing chef. Our family operated a Chinese restaurant when we moved to the States from Taipei, Taiwan. Growing up, I saw my mom being mindful about hiring immigrants, refugees, and migrants to come and work in our kitchen, train them with job skills, and send them onto bigger and better opportunities. When she passed away from cancer, I turned grief into action, combined my love for my mom, her love for food, and our love for people - and founded Break Bread, Break Borders to honor her legacy. BBBB exists because every time the women cook, her spirit comes to life.
Our work is also inspired by the heroic stories of the women who endured hardship and lived through trauma of all different kinds around the world, despite having been displaced by crises and conflicts – their grit, resilience, and determination remind us every day it’s not just the need to survive, but the will to live, that powers our humanities forward every step of the way to freedom. That is incredibly inspiring to us.
When you work in your community, what are the most valuable assets of the community that you experience aside from real estate and money?
For our work, the most valuable assets are the voices of the women we work with, how their voices are empowered by cooking, especially the highly marketable skills they have in preparing traditional cooking from diverse backgrounds. Our community cooks may not know how to speak English with the diners, but we all speak the universal language of “Food” incredibly well, and this shared language bridges gaps. They are amazing at seizing these moments to capture the diners’ attention, to bond and connect with them. At the meal, diners are captivated by healthy home cooking, made with a ton of love. They’re in awe of how much pride the women take in their food. They gain much respect for this dignified way of making a living. Our role is to amplify the women’s voices and enable them to share with our neighbors.
How does your artistic practice inform and/or is integrated into your enterprise?
To us, food is a form of art. It is rich with culture in every bite. Storytelling, oral history at the core, is another form of artistic practice that is shared at our catered events. Through interpreters, one by one, the cooks tell their powerful stories. The women, clad in hijabs and long dresses, may look different but their stories start the same as ours. They were daughters, sisters, teachers. They are mothers, wives, cooks. They want to work, learn another language, get well-paying jobs, send their kids to school. They wish for good health. They want to buy a house. They pray for the best for their families. They dream of happiness.
To know the war crimes, genocides, and atrocities these women lived through and that their children and loved ones are halfway across the world horrifies and saddens most people. It is a brutal reminder of the price we pay for power. These are the valuable lessons that we learn.
What is the impact of your work on your community? Today? Over a long period of time?
BBBB has been operating for a year and a half now. In the first year, we brought the BBBB cooks to our community, in spaces they would’ve never dreamed of stepping foot in. While before they would have been invited only to serve the table, now they are invited to a seat at the table. There are diners who have never met a refugee in their entire life, let alone eaten food cooked by one. Through these BBBB people meet each other, and these connections are especially important for our communities that are often isolated in silos by choice. We figure everybody’s got to eat, why not eat food that’s made by a woman-led, refugee run catering business in our own backyard by our newly arrived neighbors for ever-lasting social impact?
Our graphic novel cookbook zines are bringing generations together, reading and getting back in the kitchen, to try out recipes and venture into new flavors and parts of the world. There is something to be said for these deeper meaningful acts of kindness peace, and compassion for our loved ones.
In the years to come, because we see through intersectional lenses, together with our community partners, we will have built a commercial kitchen to train more women. We hope to see them continue on a successful path, possibly working at the cafe in the Vickery Meadow Library, or running their own catering business and empowering their communities further. We will grow to provide more jobs to the women who live in Vickery Meadows and that, in turn, will spread their education to their children and other small family businesses. We hope to expand to a broader community circle by offering job opportunities for other refugee women in neighboring cities. We also hope to create global food hall (brick and mortar or virtual aggregator on e-commerce website) to cope with the global migrant crisis, and continuing increase of climate refugees we see in the near future. Our human-centered design, made for social and environmental awareness can continue to inspire people and propel them forward to equity, diversity, and inclusion. We’d love for my son and the entire next generation to grow up in a world better than the one we found - just as my mother did for us.
The Nitty Gritty
When was your organization or project founded?
Break Bread, Break Borders held its first storytelling community dinner on March the 9th, 2017.
What is your staffing situation like?
We have 6 community cooks on staff.
What is your annual budget?
Our annual budget is around $49,000, and we are a for-profit social enterprise. Our current business set up is as an LLC.