Think of the last restaurant you visited, and think of the people who made your dining experience possible. Chances are, some, if not most, of them were immigrants. As the resurgence of workplace raids and restrictive legislation threatens their colleagues and their families, some local culinary leaders have decided to make a political statement by doing their part to help fight back — on their own turf.
Dining for Democracy, the brainchild of chef Benjy Mason of Down House and Sugar and Rice editor David Leftwich, is a collaborative fundraiser that honors immigrants who have altered the city’s taste buds for the better.
For two weeks starting March 8, diners at participating restaurants can enjoy a special menu of at least three courses priced between $20 and $60, while bars will feature selections of between two and eight cocktails. Fifteen percent of the proceeds — pre-tax and pre-tip — will go straight to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
"Many in the Houston restaurant and bar industry, like many Houstonians, want to protect the rights of immigrants, just as we seek to protect of the rights of all Americans," read a Dining for Democracy press release.
Immigrants play many different roles in the food industry, says John Nechman, a local immigration attorney affiliated with the initiative. "I have represented a bunch of people from the highest level of chef in the city down to busboys and dishwashers," says Nechman. "I think a lot of people would be really shocked if they knew about the immigration status of some really high end people."
The ACLU was selected as Dining for Democracy's due to its work in combating proposed immigration policy changes "from day one," issuing statements to condemn government actions, laying the groundwork for legal interventions and providing assistance to affected individuals.
"We are extremely grateful to these Houston restaurant owners for standing up for equality and for the immigrants who make up the fabric of the most diverse city in the nation," says Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. "The stakes are high right now, and the ACLU must ensure we have the resources we need for the fight ahead."