Back in 2015, Anthony Bourdain had a premonition. Speaking to SiriusXM host Pete Dominick, the celebrity chef said that if Donald Trump ever succeeded in his pledge to deport the country’s some 11 million undocumented immigrants “every restaurant in America would shut down.” They’re “the backbone of the industry,” he continued. “I walked into restaurants and the person who’d always been there the longest, who took the time to show me how it was done, was always Mexican or Central American.”
At the time, the statement was seen as a showing of solidarity amid Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant rhetoric on the campaign trail. But now, as the nation inches closer to the reality of Inauguration Day on January 20, the restaurant industry at large is indeed bracing for what a Trump presidency will mean for its labor force.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of the restaurant industry’s 12.7 million workers, 1.4 million were born outside of the U.S. in 2010. And according to a 2008 report from the Pew Hispanic Center, 28 percent of the country’s 360,000, dishwashers and 20 percent of the industry’s 2.6 million chefs, are currently undocumented. If America truly is a “cultural melting pot,” as it’s so frequently hailed, then some of the country’s most vibrant pockets are located in its kitchens, spaces that have allowed immigrants to establish a footing in the U.S. for generations.
Today, that haven is being threatened. Though few believe Trump could ever deport the bulk of this country’s undocumented population—men and women who pay some $12 billion in taxes each year, and contribute to the foundation and infrastructure of this country on a daily basis—it is the climate of fear, anxiety, and resentment that truly threatens to upend the hospitality industry in 2017.
As President-elect Trump prepares to inherit the Oval Office, First We Feast asked four leading chefs and restaurant owners how their staffs have been coping with the country’s current political climate. The kitchen has long existed as a refuge for immigrants (albeit an imperfect one), but also provides respite for anyone made to feel “other”—women, people of color, members of the LGBT community, Muslims, Jews, and a litany of other groups that have been increasingly marginalized in Donald Trump’s America.
Now, Eduardo Ruiz, Alex Stupak, Angela Dimayuga, and Hugh Acheson weigh in on what the restaurant industry can do to form a resistance.
Interviews have been edited and condensed.