Immigrants Cooking Up a Fusion of Cultures and Cuisines
VOA Learning English talked with two students in the Culinary Arts program at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School. Maksym Olah is from the Ukraine, and Isidro Dubon comes from Central America. They are studying to become chefs and work hard to make their American dreams come true.
From the Ukraine to the U.S.
"I came to the... U.S. because I married an American girl and she finished her Peace Corps service... and then, we have (a) small project in the Smithsonian festival, and we represent Ukranian country on the Smithsonian festival four years ago."Maksym Olah was an actor and dancer in the theater in his home country, Ukraine. He fell in love with an American woman who was in the Peace Corps. Olah immigrated to the U.S. when she finished her service in the Ukraine. That summer, he showed his dancing skill in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Olah found a different culture in the U.S. and learned to treat others differently than he had at home.
"My wife ... told me it's (a) different language, different culture, different mentality ... and you need – she told me – you need to respect everybody. Here, people (are) more gentle to each other. "
Olah started to study English soon after he arrived.
"When I came here, I don't speak, , I don't speak any kind of words, just (a) few words, like "hello, my name is Max, and goodbye".
I'm in (the) international program... cuisine. We study about each country's food, gastronomy, history, techniques, and this is, for me, it's very helpful... help. Because every people start to cook in the French. This is history. And, for me, new techniques. Kind of techniques, like, boiling, or micro-cook, or something like that. This is new... and interesting for me."
Olah dreams of owning his own restaurant or a food truck one day.
"My goal: I want to open a small business, a food truck, Eastern European truck, maybe American, if I studied a lot of recipe, maybe I mix it for example, each country, and American... I forgot (the) name... of that word, but, it's like "fusion"! Oh, yeah.
Although he has a busy schedule of study, Olah finds time to keep up his Ukrainian dancing.
"Yes. On a Saturday, I work in a Ukrainian school. I teach folk dance (to) children. I have 150 people. Yeah, I teach Ukrainian folk dancing. This is my hobby!"
From Honduras to the U.S
Isidro Dubon is like many students at Carlos Rosario, a public charter school in Washington D.C. He comes from Central America. Born in Honduras, Dubon came to the U.S. when he was 16-years-old.
Dubon's brother had lived in the U.S. for some time. He encouraged Isidro to join him. Dubon's reason for coming to the U.S. was simple enough. He came to America, as many immigrants do, searching for two things: a better job and a better life. Before coming to the U.S., he expected to work hard. He hoped to one day buy his own house.
He didn't speak English, but he did not think it would be a problem.
Finding work is not easy
When Dubon arrived, he was surprised to discover that it was very difficult to find work. He had not thought that his lack of English skills would stop him from getting a job.
Dubon began studying in the English program at Carlos Rosario. After some time, he found work as a dishwasher in a restaurant. He worked hard, and received promotions. Dubon's dream had been to buy his own house. Every time he paid rent for an apartment, he would say to himself "Wow, that's too much money."
Dubon decided to quit school and find a second job, so that he could save money. His English classes at Carlos Rosario helped him understand how to build his credit rating – the most important factor for a home buyer in the U.S.
"So, after I found two job(s), I start(ed) to build my credit. And then after three years, I start to look at house(s), for sale. After five years (of) that process, I found a beautiful house, and I bought it. And then, when I had all this, I quit one job, and I return to the school."
When he returned, Dubon enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Carlos Rosario. He is taking a course called "Culinary Arts: Fundamentals," which exposes students to theoretical and hands-on training in culinary arts.
Achieving the dream luncheon
The school put on a lunch at the end of the fall semester. It is called "Achieving the Dream."
During the lunch, students, families, local politicians, and community organizers came to the school. The goal was to give students practical experience preparing, cooking, and serving food.
The lunch also served as an opportunity to ask for donations to support the school. Carlos Rosario is a public, non-profit school that has had funding problems before. In the mid-1990s, the school had to close for a year because public funding was cut to adult education programs in Washington, D.C.
Olah and Dubon assisted in preparing the lunch, and worked as servers during the event. But problems came up during the lunch. Dubon's partner had to go help in the kitchen, so Dubon had to serve alone. He had trouble at first, but he says that he remembered his experience working in restaurants.
Dubon and Olah are both grateful for the education they have received at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School. They are working hard to reach their dreams.The lunch, said a smiling Dubon, was a success. The chefs who teach him were happy with his performance.
I'm Jill Robbins.