Bridging Borders: Community-Engaged Cookbook Project

By: Katie Dingeman-Cerda

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.59.30 PMFood bears significance beyond nourishing our bodies. It connects people across generations, cultures, and history. Faculty and students from the University of Denver recently partnered with the CIVIC-affiliated nonprofit Casa de Paz to pilot a bilingual English-Spanish cookbook featuring the stories of local migrants. Casa de Paz, directed by Sarah Jackson, offers solidarity with migrants detained in the private detention facility in Aurora by facilitating visitations and pen pals, as well as free housing and support for families torn apart by detention.

Students from the university course I teach, Crimmigration: The Criminalization of Immigration, spent a day with a formerly detained migrant serviced by Casa de Paz. The students went grocery shopping and prepared a meal that held special meaning to their designated migrant “chef.” The meals included John’s “Favorite Fufu” which brings him back to Ghana, José’s “Costillitas de Puerco” which reminds him of a lost love, and Erik’s “Family Style Citrus Chicken & Vegetables” which he ate as a child as a second-generation Chinese migrant in Mexico. In sharing food and stories, the project humanized migrants whose identities are lost amidst often hostile political rhetoric.

The students also learned about the power of borders, citizenship, and criminalization. They heard that Lupe’s “Spicy Chicken & Rice” was made in memory of her mother who died from cancer but whose funeral she could not attend in Mexico due to her undocumented status. Jose was paralyzed in detention after digesting a piece of metal in food described as “trash” and receiving inadequate medical care (they only provided him ibuprofen). “Costillitas de Puerco” was a meal for which José longed as he languished in detention for three years for crimes fraudulently committed in his name. After meeting Erik, the students learned he was to be deported and separated from his U.S. citizen wife and three children. The students have been raising awareness in their networks and they plan to attend Eriks’ removal hearing.

With guidance from James Beard Award-winning soul food author Adrian Miller, the students produced cookbook pages featuring migrants’ stories and recipes, and presented their findings in a potluck celebration at the University of Denver. Students from the university’s Spanish program are translating the pages under the guidance of Professor Zulema Lopez. Sarah Jackson is continuing the cookbook project with community and student groups in Denver. Once the book published, all proceeds will fund programming at Casa de Paz.

For more information on Casa de Paz:

To join Katie and CIVIC in creating the second community-engaged cookbook in this series, email


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