Cristina Martinez and Benjamin Miller, owners of South Philly Barbacoa, are serious about speaking out on the (often hush-hush) issue of undocumented immigrant workers within the restaurant industry. For them, the fight for immigration reform is extremely personal: Though Martinez is married to Miller, a US citizen, she is ineligible for a green card. But in truth, everyone who works in or around the restaurant industry (or eats in restaurants, for that matter) also has a direct and personal connection to the issue. As Martinez recently told Al Dia, "Sometimes we have really abusive bosses that don't respect our work, in different areas of work — construction, cleaning, dishwashing, and cooking. And we always feel that push of exploitation."
All I want is for some chefs to step up and say, "yes, we are in favor of making a way for our undocumented workers, they matter"— s. philly barbacoa (@art_of_barbacoa) August 14, 2015
As such, the couple, along with Tom McCusker of Honest Tom's, have recently begun hosting meetings at the barbacoa restaurant to discuss the issue and to attempt to organize some meaningful action toward improving conditions and laws affecting undocumented workers.
This weekend, the group has arranged a screening of The Hand That Feeds, a documentary from filmmakers Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick that follows a group of undocumented immigrant workers at an NYC bakery-cafe in their fight to unionize. This free event is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. on Sunday, September 20, at South Philly Barbacoa.
It will be the independent film's first showing in Philadelphia. Miller adds that two immigration lawyers will be in attendance to speak after the screening and to answer questions.
The film screening and forum is open to the general public, though Miller would especially like to encourage the participation of restaurant workers — from dishwashers to owners, documented or undocumented. "I feel that chefs have enough political power to get some changes made for undocumented workers in our industry, who are indispensable," says Miller.