I’ve lived in the same apartment on Baldwin Avenue since I moved to this country in 1999, but the physical place where I lay my head is not the reason it feels like home. Home to me is a feeling more than a location, it’s a deep breath and relieving exhale, a sense of comfort and belonging. When I say I’m from Jersey City I feel it on my skin, it’s a rich textile that drapes over me, woven with threads of experiences from all over the world. Different cultures, languages, and ethnicities make up its different strands, all of varying textures and colors, interlaced in a unique pattern that brings me warmth.
The solace I find in being from Jersey City is that what makes me different, makes me fit in. In Iran, where I was born, I am American. In America, where I reside, I am an immigrant. In Jersey City, I can comfortably and simultaneously be both.
I share this feeling with many of the friends I made growing up here. They are Pakistani, Kashmiri, Indian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Sengalese, West Indian, Egyptian, Irish, Ecuadorian, Dominican, Brazilian, Italian, African, Korean, Chinese, and Filipino, to name a few. They are part of the families that make up the melting pot (hence our site name) of cultures in Jersey City. Jersey City has consistently ranked as one of the most diverse cities in the country, with 54.4% residents speaking a language other than English in their homes, and 41% of residents having a birth place outside of the US.
While at times it feels as though there is an “old Jersey City” and a “new Jersey City,” it is important to acknowledge that few people in Jersey City are truly native to its land. We reside on occupied Lenape territory, forcibly taken by the Dutch in the 17th Century, and developed by colonizers in the years that followed. Some of us immigrated here and some of our ancestors were brought here by force, to work as slaves on stolen land.
Centuries after the first act of displacement that led to its establishment, the Jersey City community feels threatened once again. This time by gentrifiers, rising rents, and a higher cost of living. While development in areas of blight and urban decline can at first have a positive impact, over time (and when loosely & irresponsibly regulated) it can lead to the forced displacement of long-time residents and community members.
Displacement is like a sharp pair of scissors, snipping out pieces of thread from the city’s rich textile, unweaving its pattern past the point of recognition. In an effort to strengthen that fabric and preserve its rich history, we’re turning to food. Growing up in Jersey City and attending public school meant I had an extra teacher in my classmates, to learn about other backgrounds and cultural experiences. One of the biggest ways this happened for me was through food. Whether it was at the table during lunch, in a friend's home, or on international day (a big school potluck) there were countless opportunities to learn about others through what they ate.
My parents were the typical immigrant parents, always expecting I’d come home right after school, and wanting full background checks of anyone whose home I visited. I distinctly remember the first time I went to my best friend’s house in the 5th grade. I had to beg my mom and give days of advance notice to walk to a house three blocks up my avenue, in the heights, for 2 hours. It was the first time I tried true home-cooked spanish food, and it came to my plate straight from the stove. Arroz con frijoles, plátanos maduros, and roasted chicken.
That experience is what Melting Pot JC is all about. The main content that will be shared here will consist of food-based interviews with residents of various cultural backgrounds, living in different neighborhoods all across the city. I will be visiting my neighbors homes, recreating a dish with them, and simply talking about their experiences living here. In a time where a lot of media attention is paid to new restaurants and markers of gentrification in Jersey City, Meltingpot JC will be a platform to showcase to the food cooked in our homes by our loved ones, and use it to tell their stories.
Food, while it has wide appeal, is inherently political. Food is not independent of housing, income, education, immigration status, gender, mental health, and physical health. While we are creating a platform based on food, we intend to use it to advocate for all aspects of our residents well-being. Please reach out if there is an issue you want to highlight or organization/event you want to showcase or collaborate on.
We intend to create culturally sensitive and appropriate educational materials centered around nutrition and health. The more we know about our nutrition and our food, the more control we regain over our bodies. If you’re interested in helping us create, please please contact us!