Sharing Culture Through the Immigrant Kitchen
Story by Emily Donaldson ’20
As a senior at Durham Academy, it’s sometimes difficult to see my everyday experiences and interactions at school with a fresh outlook and open mind. In applying to colleges and planning for my life next year, I had come to see DA traditions as habits I would leave behind and eventually have to outgrow. However, the Cavalier Capstone program completely transformed my perspective about the power of tradition.
As a part of the Immigrant Kitchen Capstone last May, led by Upper School history teacher Mr. Phu, who emigrated from Vietnam, and Enrollment Management Director Ms. Muradi, who emigrated from Afghanistan, I heard numerous immigrants discuss their stories and the different ways they navigated the United States. [This capstone introduced students to refugee communities in the Triangle, explored the circumstances that brought them to the area and examined the history of their native foods by cooking together with family recipes.]
Even though each of these immigrants has a different story, they all agree that tradition’s power and importance transcends beyond any specific time in their lives or place they once lived. Tradition isn’t an old habit to break, rather it’s a timeless reminder of community and its values. In making their favorite recipes, immigrants are reminded of their relatives alongside their community’s love, dedication and generosity. These values are rooted in tradition, but they continue to remain relevant as immigrants are confronted with daily challenges in a new country.
I think I have a lot to learn from this mindset. DA’s emphasis on leading a moral, happy and productive life shouldn’t just exist as a tiresome tradition that I mindlessly follow. Where we come from undoubtedly shapes where we’re going, yet it also provides surprising insights that enrich the journey.
During the first two days of the capstone, our class met two women who recently emigrated from Syria and Afghanistan. Although the two women came to the U.S. for different reasons, they are extremely brave individuals who took huge risks to ensure the best possible futures for their children.
One left Syria because her 7-year-old daughter, who had a rare blood disease, was sponsored by a nonprofit organization to come to the U.S. and receive life-saving medical treatment. I admire her willingness to start over and make the best of her life here, despite the many obstacles she faces. She works a 12-hour day in a convenience store to provide for her family because her Syrian teaching license and credentials do not transfer to American schools. Love for her family and a strong work ethic have been ingrained in her from an early age. Her morals will never shrink in the face of adversity. The same is true for the woman who emigrated from Afghanistan. I am inspired to see morality differently after meeting both of these women.
Being able to experiment and try new foods every day was part of the reason why this capstone captured my interest. Out of all the new foods I helped prepare, mulukhiyah, a Syrian leaf, was the most memorable. The story behind this leaf is quite fascinating. Although it tastes like a more nuanced combination of spinach and kale, we were told this leaf literally means “royalty.” I found that the meaning behind this leaf accurately described our hosts’ attitude toward our class. Even though it was Ramadan and the women we cooked with were fasting, they didn’t hesitate to prepare a four-course meal for us. The immigrants we met did everything in their power to connect with us and make the experience extremely impactful. The people we met derived happiness from helping us, even if it was at their own expense. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to cook food they couldn’t eat, nor was it comfortable to be vulnerable, yet they did both without hesitating and found joy in the process.
This capstone has redefined two parts of DA’s mission statement for me, but now it’s time to take action and truly implement these lessons. I want to make the most of my time left at DA, while finding new meaning in the traditions I used to take for granted. Since senior year is full of many “last” events, I can’t simply breeze through my days and carelessly flip through months on the calendar. Creating new memories while still savoring the old ones is a perfect recipe for the future, one I wouldn’t have found without this capstone.