South Philly Barbacoa

One idea that surfaced from the recent VAT meetings was to foster a vision of Sisters Country as the artisanal capital of Oregon.

That idea may be one of the better ones to have emerged from the project, if only because it is an organic outcome of broad-based community support.  It is also something that is already happening, and largely independent from political or economic winds that blow beyond anyone’s meaningful influence or control.

It is the essence of the “grass roots” meme.

Sisters Country already punches above its weight with the number of successful artisans and artists (I’m not really sure I know the difference, or care if there is one) whose work carries a strong, and far-reaching, reputation for excellence.  In some cases that recognition is international.  No small feat.

I’m not sure how I was picked to be among the VAT members.  I have suspicions, but alas, lack evidence for a prosecution.  And not that it really matters, because even though I’m not generally well-suited for committee settings – and therefore never expect to be on one — I had a great time, met some wonderful people, and was eventually voted best-dressed.

Okay, I made that up, but I was, on the occasion of our first meeting, greeted with a kind of laconic “Oh, you’re THAT guy,” which probably wasn’t meant to be entirely complimentary, but which, in the moment, seemed to provide confirmation that throwing off my inner JD Salinger for a trip into town was a bad decision.

Such is the fabulous life of a small-town newspaper columnist.

But, truth be told, and despite the opening hiccup, I found the work to be meaningful and fun, and was impressed by the high level of commitment and sincerity displayed by the VAT team.  That’s true even though, at one point, I was proffered to become a participant in a political discussion — based on misperceptions of my views.  The offer was a compliment, but I’m just not in the bag for either of our antique political parties, who are poster-children for the ills of institutional inertia.

Which was really the driving force, for me, behind joining the VAT team.  It’s local.  And it matters.

If you haven’t looked at the results of the VAT meetings, it’s probably a good idea to go on-line and take a read.  It’s a good idea because that document will, if adopted, backstop political decisions well into the future of Sisters Country.  What I found in our meetings was that the work was done in exceptionally good faith by people across the spectrum of ideas – with plenty of disagreement and compromise – and the final product, while perhaps a bit pie-in-the-sky in some respects, is the result of genuine commitment to a future of shared success.

That’s always fun, and good, to be a part of.

And if the meetings had not been that, rest assured this space would say so — even if it meant I’d never be invited to play with the other kids again.

Recently, and I think these things are related, I’ve been enjoying a series on Netflix called Chef’s Table.  It is a profoundly interesting, extremely well-produced, and wholly moving series of profiles on various chefs around the world who have made a mark on the culinary world.

And not just in the areas of creating terrific food.  Each of the profiled chefs has a different story, but all of them seem to have an intense commitment to preserving the very best of their cultural traditions, while creating amazing and fresh cuisine for everyone else.

One of those profiles is of Cristina Martinez, co-owner and head chef at South Philly Barbacoa. Martinez fled from Mexico – where she was forced to leave her daughter — to escape an abusive husband, then walked fifteen days through the Sonoran desert to enter the United States illegally. Eventually, she made it to Philadelphia, where she worked numerous jobs at various restaurants and where she was eventually fired — after marrying an American and asking her boss to write a recommendation letter so that she might finally apply for a green card.

The boss said he couldn’t get involved.  He didn’t fire anyone else.

Sicilians like to serve revenge cold, but Martinez serves it hot.  In 2016 her restaurant, specializing in barbacoa and pancita, was recognized by Bon Appetit magazine as one of the top 6 restaurants in the United States.  With her success, Martinez has become a vocal advocate for the rights and conditions of America’s millions of undocumented restaurant workers.  These are the unsensational immigrants, you know, the ones who don’t shoot cops or peddle dope, just decent folks working feverishly in jobs Americans actually don’t want to do anymore, but who remain subject to the Byzantine stupidity of our immigration law.

Seen through the lens of my recent VAT experience, whose task was to envision what kind of place we want Sisters Country to be, and while expired politicians continue debating expired ideas on fixing the immigration problem, Martinez’s hard-won experience and successful contributions to her South Philly community seemed remarkably poignant.  Because who cares where she is from?  Starting with nothing, using only her considerable talents and inexhaustible work-ethic, all she has managed to do is to create an artisanal capital, recognized around the world, from her tiny barbacoa joint on South 9thStreet.

Which is exactly the kind of thing I support.  Always.  Papers or no papers.

  1. YAY!

    Ann Thompson
    Sent from my iPad.

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  2. Craig, Are you advocating that Sisters becomes a sanctuary for people who are in this Country illegally?

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    1. I’m advocating for people who come into our country and make it a better place to live.

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  3. Craig, You say “A better place to live” by what measure ? Access to more diversity of food ? Im sure you dont feel any threat to your livelihood from the thousands of illegal immigrants flooding into Oregon, about 300k at last count or about 10% of the population.

    But go talk to most anyone who works in the construction industry as I do and its a living nightmare. They undercut hourly wages.. Work unlincenced..etc. In fact they take away work from tax paying American citizens that will do these jobs and actually in fact depend on this work for their own survival and future security.

    illegal immigration is not a victimless act if not a crime which I believe it is. Ya maybe its convenient to be able to hire a cheap gardener, laborer, ranch hand, nanny, dishwasher, etc. But these ARE jobs that Americans will do and have historically done for decades until illegal immigrants cut into these industries and drove down the wages. I personally did everyone of these jobs during my highschool years including babysitting.

    To believe otherwise is naive and extremely shortsighted and I have no doubt you would be singing a different song both personally and politically if they were coming for your job by the thousands. I have deep respect for anyone who has served our country and wants to protect the sovereignty of our nation so Im quite perplexed to see someone like yourself advocating for what we all know is not healthy for our Country.

    Legal immigrants fine and great.. illegal uncontrolled immigration Bad!

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    1. Naive? I spent 15 years on the streets of southern California as a police officer, principally working narcotics, but also every other imaginable kind of crime including homicides, violent crime, property crime, and sex crimes. It’s likely I’m more familiar and more intimately versed on this particular issue than 90% of the people who talk about it as though they were experts. You make a passionate case for what you believe, but what I don’t see are any offered solutions. There are, depending on who you listen to, upwards of 20 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. The cat is out of the bag. Way out. So now what? Are you going to arrest your way out of this? I’d invite you to spend five or ten minutes in uniform anywhere in the United States, particularly in a large city, and then report back on how you plan to do that. I’d love to see that, in fact. There are people who come into this country illegally who commit heinous crimes. I have no sympathy whatsoever for them, and rock-solid bonafides to prove it– up to and including the people I put in prison for the rest of their lives, without possibility of parole. But for people who come here illegally, and somehow manage to find a job, and then do everything else right except that one little border bit, I have a different attitude. Because, 1) they aren’t a problem, and 2) in their situation, I would do the same. In many cases that I have personally been involved with I find them better citizens than the people who were actually born here and flaunt their citizenship at every conceivable opportunity, as if they were doing anything at all to make America a better place to live. Furthermore, in troubled times, there is no border I would not cross, no law I would not break, to care for my family, and see them housed, fed, and educated, whatever the risk. Which is, to a large degree, what illegal immigrants do with their money. Ask me how I know. I imagine that sentiment is the same for you — what wouldn’t you do? And if you have ever, even once, eaten food, anywhere in America, you are complicit in the problem. The fields of California are not full of Americans clamoring for stoop labor jobs that only happen to feed not only America, but large swaths of the rest of the world. The construction industry, God bless them, is also complicit, because the owners and foreman hire people knowing they are illegal, just like Ms. Martinez’s kitchen boss. Now everyone who ever enters a building using illegal construction labor is also complicit in the problem, aren’t they? Should we arrest all of them too, for conspiracy? You say Americans will do those jobs, but I doubt it for cause — unless they are faced with an apocalypse, and then they might, begrudgingly. The American citizen isn’t what he used to be, particularly the younger ones, and any suggestion otherwise is the real naiveté, which is one reason the US Army has to keep changing its fat-kid standard. And even if you could arrest every illegal alien currently in the United States, the net result would NOT be a boon to the American economy, it would likely be a factor in tanking it, because each and every one of us rely on that exploited labor for the low prices we pay for virtually everything. The hypocrisy in this discussion is wildly out of control even as the moralizing condenses and becomes more focused — principally out of fear. I’m in favor of realistic solutions that deal with facts already on the ground. Arrest and deport anyone — with a criminal record — who is here illegally. But for those people who have come here, such as Ms. Martinez, and produced something of benefit for the communities that they live in without any violations whatsoever, I don’t feel the same way. I don’t share the sense that there is an uncontrollable crisis of illegal immigrants who, beyond the initial border crossing, have committed heinous crimes. There are some, and they should be hammered. But, to your initial question, I don’t support sanctuary cities, but I do support common sense, and the black and white, all or nothing solutions to immigration issues often defy the law, defy reality, defy practicality, and in some cases even defy morality. Ask me how I know. The “illegals are all bad” meme is, essentially, unrealistic, jingoistic, and wildly exaggerated pissing in the wind, and I think, as a nation of can-do people, we can do much, much better than that.

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  4. Craig, I can see you are very passionate about this issue and I appreciate and respect that you are willing to make your position known, most people these days are not. My beliefs on this issue are borne not out of fear but out of concern and a sense of responsibility for this country I love and all of its legal citizens, Until our society takes care of every homeless veteran or abused child in foster care I feel absolutely no responsibility for my government to spend 143 billion dollars annually on illegals. I do however feel a responsibility to do what I can now so my children have a healthy country for their lifetime. Just because we now have an estimated 22 people here illegally doesnt mean we throw our hands up in surrender. I did not say all illegals are bad but all illegal immigration is bad because for every one person like you cite in your article that comes here illegally for a better life there are many many more that come here illegally to commit horrific crimes and to exploit America and its citizens in a thousand different ways. And the fact is when you dont know who is actually coming into your country then you cant know if its the next greatest chef or the next vicious serial killer and that is just the reality of things. So Oregon with its insane and reckless laws makes it a defacto sanctuary state allowing hundreds of thousands of illegals to roam freely draining limited public resources at the expense of US taxpayers taking jobs, housing, medical services, schooling, etc,etc. so tell me how is that making my life better or the lives of my children. I would gladly pay more for my food or cloths than watch my Country and especially my state collapse under the weight of uncontrolled illegal immigration. Thanks for your time, keep up the great writing !

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