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Thankful for Immigrants

November 5, 2018

Thanksgiving is coming. Many of us have our long standing family traditions. The Fussys will be doing Thanksgiving with Raf and his family in Westchester, and then we’ll be off to Connecticut for a second family feast on Saturday.

That means no cooking for the profussor. I’ve even been banned from making whipped cream at Aunt N’s house, because apparently my gorgeous and silky chantilly cream isn’t sweet enough for the kids around the table who prefer a sweeter cream to crown sweet pies. Madness. It feels like I’ve failed to teach my children well.

It also means we are entering into the season of thanks.

In part because of the spirit of the season, in part because of my culinary experiences over the weekend, and in part because there’s a big election coming up tomorrow, I wanted to take a moment and talk about why I am thankful for immigrants.

Saturday, I took my son to a robotics competition up in Ballston Spa. Seriously, I need to get up there more often, because this has to be one of the cutest towns in the Capital Region. I’m a little jealous of their main street, and its shops and restaurants.

Hopefully you’ve never had to experience a high school robotics competition before. They are loud, chaotic, and while there are female competitors, the place still has that distinct smell of teenage boys, much like a Best Buy. Needless to say, when lunch time rolled around, I took it as an excuse to take a break and get the heck out of the high school gym.

Tacos. Tacos can almost always save the day.

Naturally, I checked on Yelp, and found that Mexican Restaurant El Cilantro was nearby. And there was a reviewer who I trust who said that the lengua tacos were fantastic. Holy cow, he was right. The lengua was some of the best I’ve ever had.

My hunch is that the meat has to be braised, then chilled, then finely diced, and then sautéed to caramelize all that newly created surface area. I’ve never seen this taco filling prepared quite like that before, and I suspect it would win over those who claim to be disgusted by tongue.

The kid actually did well in the competition, so after we left, the two of us went out to celebrate. He was hoping for Ala Shanghai or Taiwan Noodle, but those were a bit out of the way. I had to run a quick errand just outside of Schenectady on the way home. But he was very happy to return to Hu’s House as a compromise. There we had soup dumplings, pork and leek boiled dumplings, and rice cake with pork and capsella.

Let’s step back for a moment.

When I first arrived in the Capital Region there was no place to go for good street tacos. Sure we had Mexican restaurants, but those were more in the Tex-Mex style. For years the area’s “best” Mexican food came from Bombers, which isn’t even a Mexican restaurant. There were zero restaurants making soup dumplings, much less the super delicious and thin-skinned version at Ala Shanghai. I never dared to dream that we might have not just one, but a handful of legit Sichuan places.

Now we have all that and Moroccan food. There’s a Persian restaurant in Schenectady. For a hot minute we had a Tibetan place open up in Albany. We are fortunate to have South Indian street food. Korean food is now available in dedicated Korean restaurants and not just relegated to a section of the menu at a Pan-Asian restaurant.

Immigrants to the area are directly improving our quality of life. And to them I say, “Thank you.”

Even as our local international food scene grows, there is always one common answer when people are asked what kind of restaurant they would like to see in the Capital Region: Ethiopian. Count me among the chorus of voices who would enjoy a scoop of misir wat on some spongey injera to soak up all that niter kibbeh.

But it’s never going to happen if we become a nation that is hostile to immigrants.

Some people might argue they aren’t opposed to immigration, but merely illegal immigration. And that’s a place where I think we can have a civil conversation. But the tone of the current political rhetoric goes way beyond that, to the point where this country is feeling hostile to immigrants in general. Which frankly, is a tragedy.

Tomorrow is a big day for America.

I already have plans to grab a drink out in the evening. Whether it will be one of celebration or commiseration remains to be seen. But my sincere hope is that we remember what has made America great.

I’m going to argue that it wasn’t our founding fathers. Sure, they helped to set the stage. But they were just men. Smart men. Men of vision and courage. But they weren’t mystics. They couldn’t know what was to come. Instead, I say that American greatness stems from the arc of progress we’ve pursued as a nation. There are the social landmarks of ending slavery, expanding the right to vote, and extending the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples. But progress comes in many forms, and should also include our commitment to science, as a driver of technology, which in turn has led to our increased economic prosperity.

Is this a gross oversimplification? You bet. But this is a food blog. So let me wrap this up.

Immigrants have always played a vital role in American society. I can’t speak to any who directly impacted some of the social gains we’ve made as a nation. But certainly in the realm of science and technology, immigrants have played critical roles.

Immigrants also bring with them a tremendous amount of culinary diversity. They share their culture with the rest of us. They help make this big world seem a little smaller. They bring deliciousness into our lives that we may not have otherwise known. And for that, I am deeply grateful.

Regardless of the outcome of the midterms, please don’t forget to get out there and support the amazing immigrant-run businesses in our community. They are some of the brightest gems in our local food scene, and I am thrilled to see growing and thriving immigrant populations in the area.

Whatever you do, wherever you are, and without regard to whether you think the election is in-the-bag or totally hopeless, make sure to get to your local polling place and vote. I’m counting on you. Every. Vote. Counts.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2018 11:04 am

    First of all, the founding fathers weren’t just smart men. They intentionally set us up as a pluralistic nation from the get go, the first and still only one of its kind. I was reading a letter this weekend to a Jewish congregation written by George Washington in 1790, reaffirming that they were welcome and part of the American nation.

    Second, shame for using “Tex-Mex” as shorthand for bad Mexican food. Tex-Mex is a specific cuisine. It’s not fancy, but it’s good and nourishing. The ground beef and chili powder on taco shells has nothing to do with that.

    • November 5, 2018 12:23 pm

      Shame on bad Mexican food places for using “Tex-Mex” as a shorthand for their lousy Mexican food.

      But your point is well taken. I can’t say I won’t commit that sin again in the future. Old habits are hard to change. However, I need to remember I have actual Texans reading this blog on the regular. Maybe if one of them would invite me over for some bona fide “Tex-Mex” it would make a strong enough impression to help change my wicked ways.

      • November 5, 2018 9:25 pm

        I am ready for that journey, so long as I don’t have to pay for the plane tickets. We will spend 24 hours in Dallas, Texas and eat four meals.

        1. An authentic Tex Mex meal at any number of legit establishments.
        2. A burger at Burger House on Hillcrest, which makes the best of its kind in the world.
        3. A trip to Lockhart Smokehouse in Oak Cliff. It’s not the best but very good, and demonstrates what real Texas Bbq is all about.
        4. A lunch before we head for Love Field at Highland Park Cafeteria, beacon of Southern cuisine.

        Please include my Southwest frequent flyer number 26248248, so I get credit.

      • November 5, 2018 9:27 pm

        That’s 26248246. I make this mistake all the time for some reason. Some fat cat, probably an immigrant, is eating my peanuts and drinking my free Dewars on the plane.

  2. Dave permalink
    November 5, 2018 12:06 pm

    I don’t like this take. I’m seeing this hackneyed, “what a bunch of guys said a couple hundred years ago doesn’t matter anymore” line bandied about increasingly and it is easy to see it for what it is. The groundwork for the next logical step of – “lets just change anything we don’t like about that dusty old and bothersome Constitution…” I’d argue with your analysis that the framers failed in envisioning potential futures of this nation… I think they left us some prescient warnings (we should all sit down with Federalist no. 10 once in a while) on how we could screw it all up, and in many cases we didn’t listen.

    • November 5, 2018 12:21 pm

      That’s interesting. I don’t watch or listen to a lot of mainstream media. We subscribe to The Economist, and I appreciate the broader perspective it provides.

      The documents our founders created are impressive. I’m not pushing for tearing up the Constitution at all. Not one little bit.

      There just seems to be an almost deification of the very human human beings who collaborated to bring these words into existence. What they were able to do is remarkable, to be sure. I think were we may get into trouble is with orthodox principles of statutory interpretation.

      And again, this is a good debate where reasonable people may disagree. But these are best hashed out face to face over beers, like the founders intended, and not in faceless internet message boards.

  3. November 5, 2018 4:46 pm

    Daniel, thank you for the compliment. I’m flattered.

    I’d love to join you for a drink tomorrow evening. I’ll help to salve your wounds, or tamp down your excitement, depending on the outcome.

    And we can have that discussion about why legal immigration is good, and illegal immigration is not good.

  4. November 5, 2018 9:28 pm

    We see clear lines of demarcation here that are worthy of discussion and can only be settled by scheduling the long awaited trip to Bears. I know you are all interested so let’s do this.

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