Vimala’s Thoughts on Thanksgiving

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Vimala visits Ms. Eva Barnett, West Rosemary Street resident and local business owner.

During the pandemic, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe and the Jackson Center have joined forces to bring hot meals directly to neighbors’ doorsteps. We are so proud that this creative and mutually-supportive partnership has resulted in 3,262 meals so far! As part of last week’s meal delivery, Vimala shared the following letter with residents of Northside, Pine Knolls and Tin Top:

For me, the pandemic, despite its challenges, has opened a door that has taken me back to my beginnings as a new arrival from India. My first job in America was as a lead teacher in a predominantly black daycare on Caldwell Street in Chapel Hill’s Northside. There I learned from co-workers, kids and their parents about the history, culture and cuisine of my new home. I was so fascinated by the food that came to us daily that I would stop in at church fish fry’s and barbecue events to learn more about how to cook this delicious cuisine that was so new to me. 

Fast forward to the years I spent as an undocumented single mother whose only means of earning a livelihood was cooking out of my home. I was frequently called on to cook for large groups of people who were not at all familiar with my native Indian food. There I honed my skills cooking southern soul food until it became as familiar to me as my own.  Then I knew I had come of age in the South.

Ten years ago, when Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe opened its doors in the building that years ago housed the first desegregated ice cream shop in town, I found myself at a historic crossroad. As an immigrant myself, I longed to make the growing refugee community feel welcome and at home the way I had been welcomed by my neighbors on the Northside. We began an annual tradition of inviting refugees from a dozen countries to a traditional Thanksgiving feast of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings where the community also donated clothes and household goods for them to take home. At the same time, I felt a need to somehow connect these new neighbors with my old neighbors just across Rosemary Street. These two groups are vastly different, yet they share the experience of suffering prejudice and disenfranchisement. In the current political environment both groups have experienced a resurgence of the dark side of this country’s hateful past. 

Enter the pandemic. Ever since the restaurant opened, we have enjoyed an ongoing relationship with the Jackson Center. Our southern food has always found a place at the table for their neighborhood events. But the pressure to stay home, particularly for the elderly, birthed a new and closer partnership with the Jackson Center. As funding has permitted, we have been preparing weekly or bi-weekly southern meals for Northside shut-ins, delivered by their friends at the Center. 

In this Thanksgiving 2020 season, we had hoped to bring both groups together in our spacious courtyard. But, of course, everything has to be distanced. The very same food, however, will be going out to all. Although at a distance, we will all be breaking bread together and giving thanks for every silver lining we can find in this storm. African Americans, Arabs, South Asians, Sub Saharan Africans, will all be partaking. Our prayer for all our neighbors from near and far (to borrow a phrase from our church, Love Chapel Hill) is that they will feel “apart, but not alone.”

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