Oakland restaurateurs Elijah Brown (Credit: Pimpin Chkn), Lala Harrison (Credit: Chef Lala / Instagram) and Nelson German (Credit: Nelson German / Instagram).
If you’re reading this website, you probably know Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. For several years now, groups like Berkeley Juneteenth Cultural Celebrations and the Downtown Oakland Association have been celebrating the occasion with music, conversation, and an amazing selection of food from black restaurants and vendors. But the Juneteenth has not always been so widely understood, say three prominent local food characters, and although many of the 2020 and 2021 celebrations have been dampened by the pandemic, some local chefs are working especially hard to be able to celebrate this year’s Juneteenth in some way.
The Juneteenth has been an informal holiday since 1865, and Texas became the first state to become an official holiday in 1979. It wasn’t until 2003 that California followed suit, and on Thursday President Biden officially signed a bill that every 19th century, however, according to several Black East Bay dining figures speaking to Nosh, they never heard from official institutions like local governments or schools about Juneteenth, but instead learned about it from family and friends from his story.
Chef Lala Harrison, the cook / owner of the Jusla Eats pop-up, fondly remembers the June 15th celebrations she attended as a child. “We celebrated most of my life. We went to various celebrations being held in the Bay Area. It’s about freedom and independence, much like Afro-American Independence Day, ”she said, but noted that she hadn’t heard of the day or its significance in any of her history classes.
On Saturday June 19th, Harrison is hosting a June fundraiser to raise seed money for their upcoming Temescal District restaurant, Roux40. Like their soon-to-be-opened restaurant, the fundraiser will showcase their Mediterranean and Cajun-inspired cuisine. Harrison says the event is a way for the community to celebrate black heritage by gathering and breaking bread together.
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“It’s never too late for education. [Roux40] it will be about celebrating black heritage and history around the clock all year round, ”Harrison said. “People need to understand that black people are still going through so much right now. Just a little recognition for the work and the story is nice. “
Bay Area restaurateur Elijah Brown, who also owns function room L12, is a relative newcomer to Juneteenth. He, too, grew up in the Bay Area but said “I didn’t know what Juneteenth was until sometime in the last year” when the holiday gained heightened national attention following the police murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement . His ignorance of the holiday “only shows the level of oppression that people of color have faced over the past 500 years,” Brown said.
Throughout the week, Brown’s L12 event space featured Black-owned businesses as part of Juneteenth Black Excellence Week in Oakland. This weekend, Brown is hosting a roast chicken pop-up dinner on Friday June 18 and a Black Chef dinner on Saturday June 19, both of which are intended as June 10 celebrations.
“My message to everyone is to keep learning and delving into the past,” said Brown. “The whole week should celebrate our freedom. We’re also making progress by learning these things and taking them with us – not because of the hatred, but because of the success and accomplishments we’ve all achieved. ”A quarter of event ticket sales go to Farms to Grow Inc. and the Deep Root Center for Spiritual Studies.
Chef Nelson German, who owns Oakland’s Sobre Mesa and alaMar restaurants, is not from the Bay Area: Born and raised in Washington Heights, New York, he has said in previous interviews that his Dominican family “denied our black side Has”. He says he first heard about Juneteenth, from diner diners who arrived in Oakland after the holidays, a few years ago.
However, German won’t be in Oakland this year. He is on his way to Houston to join chefs Dawn Burrell, Kiki Louya and Chris Viaud for a five-course anniversary dinner organized by Burrell to commemorate the holiday. The term “anniversary” is an allusion to the celebration of emancipation, as the earlier June 10th was also referred to as the anniversary day.
The African diaspora is the focus of the dinner menu, which also reflects the broad origins of the German: He recently discovered that his family history goes back to Cameroon. “Africa has influenced the world in many ways. We honor our roots and where we are now, ”said German.
For the anniversary dinner, the German is preparing a plantain filled with oxtail with pigeon pea and coconut mousse and a stew with West African red stew that pays tribute to the African, Dominican and Spanish elements of his heritage. Dinner proceeds will go to Lucille’s 1913, a nonprofit that provides fresh meals to unserved communities in Houston.
Being on Juneteenth in Texas is especially important for Germans. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 and the Confederate Army surrendered on April 9, 1865, the last American slaves were not actually freed until June 19, 1865, when Union forces arrived in Texas. “June itself is about the Afro-American slaves in Texas who were free, but they didn’t know they were free,” said German. “Now the opposite is happening, we didn’t know about Juneteenth, and now we know. … It is very special that four black chefs cook in a city that basically really felt what was happening, and we are making this dinner to honor those who did not know they had their freedom “, said German.
Like Harrison and Brown, German says that now that he knows the Juneteenth, he wants it to be a part of US life as much as July 4th.
“It’s what has happened for years that certain things are not talked about or that we shouldn’t celebrate something so terrible,” said German. “But we should celebrate the liberating aspect [of the historic date]. We should celebrate that every day. “
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