As part of its mission to share the stories of refugees and immigrants, WeaveTales is hosting a six week long video series called Hearty Tables to immerse viewers in culturally diverse cooking recipes and authentic stories.
WeaveTales is a nonprofit organization based in Jacksonville that shares firsthand accounts of refugee and immigrant experiences from all over the world. It was co-founded by 34-year-old UF alumnus Seyeon Hwang and 34-year-old Basma Alawee, the Florida refugee organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. Hwang, an immigrant from South Korea, and Alawee, a refugee from Iraq, said they wanted to expand the limited research on immigrants and refugees in North Florida.
“I have to make sure that my American-born child feels included in her community,“ Alawee said. “I [have been] a refugee in the state of Florida for the past 10 years. I hope things change in the best interest of everyone.”
Hearty Tables, starting on May 30, will allow viewers to virtually observe the guided cooking of immigrant chefs while learning about their upbringings and journeys to America.
“We’re trying to break down the cultural barriers among different immigrant groups and facilitate a good dialogue between the longtime residents and newcomers through this online cooking series,” Hwang said.
Anyone interested must RSVP on the eventbrite page in order to view the series. Recipes and ingredients will be shared with participants prior to each week’s episode for those who wish to cook while watching.
“Food is universal, but the way that we prepare food is very unique to each ethnic cultural group, so that’s what we’re trying to highlight,” Hwang said.
One of the immigrant chefs that will appear on Hearty Tables, 54-year-old Wen Raiti, said she shares her stories as a Chinese immigrant because too many go untold or misunderstood, and she wants viewers to know that immigrants are doing their part in the community to make a difference everyday.
“We have a lot of immigrants doing great work in the community, but their stories have not been told,” Raiti said. “We are here. This is our country and this is our community. This is our home.”
Raiti is the president and founder of House of Leaf & Bean, an organic restaurant and cafe in Jacksonville. She will be premiering the Hearty Tables series by cooking her organic Hakka chicken rice bowl on May 30.
Hearty Tables is a single segment to a bigger project in partnership with Welcoming Gainesville & Alachua County of the Welcoming America network, Hwang said. The project, known as the Learn, Share, and Change model, was created to combat discrimination and overcome misconceptions about refugees and immigrants.
Hearty Tables was originally planned as an in-person event at the Museum of Science & History in Jacksonville, but is now being hosted virtually to remain accessible during the pandemic. Hearty Tables is not the first interactive event put on by WeaveTales, and the organization plans to continue providing events and resources even while limited to virtual means.
“The work we are doing is not just for immigrants,” Alawee said. “It’s for everyone to feel safe and included and to take care of their neighbors.”