(Source: Sanctuary Restaurants; Infographic by Corallys Plasencia)
By Vishakha Mathur
In light of President Trump’s rhetoric against undocumented immigrants, the Sanctuary Restaurant movement is gaining ground throughout the country.
In Massachusetts 11 out of 15,131 eating and drinking places have declared themselves as sanctuary restaurants. They are part of some 370 restaurants, across 35 US states, currently participating in this movement. The self-imposed designation is not a legal one. It’s a grassroots movement whereby restaurant owners vow to be a sanctuary for their workers, many of whom are immigrants.
The movement was launched by Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, with Presente.org, in January 2017. The aim is for restaurants, who are a part of it, to “have a zero tolerance policy for sexism, racism, and xenophobia, and believe that there is a place at the table for all,” according to sanctuaryrestaurants.org.
“Restaurants are very much a part of our culture…People of all nationalities, all languages, should feel comfortable going to the places in their neighborhood, and not feeling that they have to look over their shoulders, or watch their backs,” said Rachel Sholtes, manager at Evy Tea in Jamaica Plain.
The movement is spreading in the state through social media and word of mouth.
Andrea Beaudoin, the founder of Hearty Eats restaurant in Shelbourne Falls, found out about the movement through a friend of hers who is also involved in the movement. Upon receiving the link via a text message from her friend, she clicked on it and found out about the project.
“I found it interesting and signed on to be sanctuary restaurant,” she said.
Another restaurant owner, Denise Tracy of Jasper Hill Café, in Milford, found out about the movement through social media. She joined the list to show that all are welcome to her restaurant.
“We opened three years ago…My husband and I wanted this to be a place for everybody. That’s how we signed on to it and that’s how we want things to be,” said Tracy.
Beaudoin’s decision to participate in this movement was also motivated by the current political climate and discussions around immigration.
“To stay silent right now is to agree [with what is going on],” she said.
Tracy, who considers herself a non-political person, thought that this is the time for her to take a stand and use her restaurant to do that.
“Restaurants are traditionally meeting places for people, from all walks of life. We are a big part of the community here. It is a place for people to congregate and I would hate to think that anybody would not feel welcome coming to our place,” she said.
For Josh Lewin at Juliet, Somerville, this was the time to show solidarity with immigrants and take a public stand in front of their employees.
“There is a lot of talk in general in this country, and especially highlighted after last year’s presidential election, about equal rights and discrimination, and other crossover issues in this area. Restaurants tend to be very prone to these issues. We wanted to make a public stand, mainly for our staff to understand, that this is a place of equal opportunity where any type of harassment or discrimination will not be accepted,” he said.
For Evy Tea, this movement is important to show solidarity with its employees.
“I don’t know a single restaurant that doesn’t have an employee who is an undocumented immigrant or a documented immigrant. It’s how it functions in America. Anybody who has worked in food knows that. It is important for restaurants to stand behind their people,” said Sholtes.
Massachusetts currently ranks as No. 10 on the list of a number of restaurants participating in this project by presente.org. Mass. restaurants that are currently a part of this project, hope that more restaurants join to make a difference.
I just looked at the list for Massachusetts. Someone sent me a text about something going on, and I clicked on it and there weren’t many restaurants on it. I think it would be nice if more restaurants do it… I hope it changes things,” said Tracy.