When Cristina Martinez came to the United States from Mexico, her undocumented status made it hard for her to keep a job. She worked in a restaurant as an entry-level prep cook before becoming a manager, only to be fired in 2012 after a lawyer advised her to disclose her immigration status to her bosses in an attempt to gain citizenship.
Now, she and her husband Ben Miller — a fellow chef who she met at that same restaurant — own South Philly Barbacoa, one of Bon Appetit’s 2016 picks for the best new restaurants in America. Together, the couple aims to mobilize the industry to advocate for the thousands of undocumented workers in food establishments across the country. The couple joins a growing movement of chefs and restaurant owners, including celebrity chef José Andrés, who have turned to political activism in light of recent threats from President Donald Trump’s administration, from deportation sweeps to an attempted travel ban and proposed border wall. Already, chefs have organized Day Without Immigrants protests, and Martinez and Miller have other actions like that set for the spring.
“Undocumented workers make the beautiful dishes that you’re eating,” Martinez told Fortune. “Let’s take an honest look at the systematic issues that criminalize so many immigrants.”
The most high-profile action Martinez and her husband have taken to date is crafting a resolution to go before Philadelphia’s City Council. While the document is not a binding law, it asks the Council to recognize the positive contributions immigrants can make, regardless of status, to the city’s economy and culture.
“It’s important to understand that policies don’t come first,” said councilwoman Helen Gym, the sponsor of Martinez and Miller’s resolution. “The change in how people understand issues and perceive one another have to come first and when we have a lot of organizing and engagement around that sea change, then we’re going to see policy changes occur.”
By Aric Jenkins for FORTUNE
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