La Morada is not just a restaurant—it is a beacon in the South Bronx. Signs on the wall read “No More Deportations” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Guest editorial by Alyshia Gálvez, author of Eating NAFTA, a Real Food Reads featured book
Owned and operated by Oaxaca-born, Mixtec speakers Natalia Mendez and Antonio Saavedra, and their three adult children, La Morada has been an anchor for its South Bronx community for a decade. But even Michelin-guide acclaim and the fact that the mayor of New York has kissed Natalia’s cheek and eaten her mole can’t protect the family from the danger of deportation or intimidation.
Two weeks ago, undercover police officers entered La Morada and arrested the owners’ eldest daughter, Yajaira Saavedra, while also threatening to arrest their youngest daughter, Carolina, who instead was taken away in an ambulance after having a panic attack. When Saavedra asked for a warrant, the officers showed her their badges and guns before handcuffing her, placing her in an unmarked police van, and detaining her for hours explanation.
In my recent book, Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policy, and the Destruction of Mexico, I chronicle the many ways policies like NAFTA have harmed working-class people, including rural and indigenous populations in Mexico who have seen their ways of life, access to land, and traditional ways of procuring, preparing, and consuming food destroyed.
We cannot enjoy mole and fresh ground corn tortillas while ignoring the realities of the people to whom these foods belong. Displaced in the early 1990s from their communities of origin by factors including NAFTA, families like the Mendez-Saavedras took it upon themselves to provide for their children in the U.S.
Excluded from the small business loans, health insurance programs, and legal assistance offered to U.S. citizens, the family built La Morada from scratch. Rather than building it only for their own livelihood, they turned it into an anchor in the community, a haven open to all.
This incident is a call to action to connect our love for food and those who prepare it to the issues of gentrification and displacement, abuse of power and police brutality, immigration and deportation. Seeing these interconnections enables us to be allies and act in solidarity when events like this occur.
Header photo: Jessica Fu, The New Food Economy