This is true in more ways than one. Every family has a treasured recipe that has traveled with them from one generation to the next. It may be your grandmother’s pumpkin pie, your dad’s barbecue ribs, or your mom’s curry sauce. It is a dish that you’ve grown up with and that your taste buds immediately recognize. It is of your family and your culture, and it is a part of who you are.
Recipes from Yuíza’s Kitchen is a feature-length documentary following Rafael Álvarez and the Puerto Rican community of Norris Square from the urban gardens in North Philadelphia to the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico, as they search for the lost recipes of their buried African and Taíno past to preserve for the next generations in America. The film follows the storyline of these lost Puerto Rican recipes to explore the connection between food and identity. In particular, we are searching for the recipe of Pon de Calabaza, a recipe that Rafael has been unable to find or recreate since his great-grandmother passed. All of the recipes that we look for are rich with African and Taíno influences, and have been lost (1) through migration, and (2) because of Puerto Rico’s historical rejection of its African roots. While we know of Africa’s influence in Puerto Rican art and music, its impact on food is rarely acknowledged. These recipes are missing from cookbooks and from kitchens, and they need to be found in order to thoroughly understand the Puerto Rican identity. With your help (and hopefully our good karma), we will be able to find these lost recipes.
and I am the co-director of Recipes from Yuíza’s Kitchen. Four years ago, I decided to pursue my passion for filmmaking and declared my major in film and media arts at Temple University in Philadelphia. In that time, I developed a love for helping people tell their stories, and realized that my knowledge and training in film could help me do that. This May, along with co-director Rafael Álvarez and our teammates, Ethan Schwartz (director-of-photography) and Lucas Alvarado-Farrar (assistant director-of-photography), I am hoping to use everything I’ve learned in film school to tell the stories of Recipes from Yuíza’s Kitchen, which will serve as my senior thesis project, and a kickoff to our feature length documentary.
As the daughter of two Filipino immigrants, I understand the issues of the next generation. I deal with those same issues. I know the challenge of facing the clash between your native culture and American culture. While I feel that my identity is first Filipina, then American, I struggle over finding the right balance between the two. I do not speak Tagalog, but I understand it. I am not a member of a strong Filipino community, but I strongly identify with Filipino values. Besides my parents and my siblings, the rest of my family lives in the Philippines. If my parents had not been persistent in raising us in a traditional Filipino household, then I do not think that I would be able to really identify with my Filipino culture. These are common issues of the younger generations that work to understand their hyphenated identities. This is why I am so intrigued by Norris Square Neighborhood Project and Rafael’s quest to find these recipes. Not only is he taking on the responsibility of cultural preservation that the elder generations tend to be in charge of, but he is also finding the missing and forgotten pieces of the Puerto Rican identity.
and I’m the co-director of Recipes from Yuíza’s Kitchen. For the past six years I have worked in the Latino community. I currently manage Norris Square Neighborhood Project’s six Puerto Rican themed gardens and create programming for the gardens with community members, youth, and volunteers. Before becoming a part of Norris Square Neighborhood Project, I was a Youth Organizer at Youth United for Change, a youth-driven educational advocacy organization as their Bilingual Youth Organizer. I have also worked at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society teaching environmental issues to youth. Prior to PHS I worked for the office of Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez as a legislative intern. I have a strong passion for social justice and advocacy especially in the areas of youth, education, race, LGBT issues, and the environment.
As the son of working class Puerto Rican parents, culture was always an integral part of my upbringing. We never had many material possessions, but our wealth was held in our family and traditions. I have always felt that my experience of migration to the U.S. due to economic hardship in Puerto Rico has galvanized a duality of the urban American and the agrarian Puerto Rican in myself. I was raised in Camden, New Jersey by my mother, as a single parent she heavily relied on my grandmother to help meet the gaps that my father who lived in Puerto Rico at the time could not physically meet; this led to a cross generational upbringing with a strong emphasis on our connection with the land as Puerto Rican people. What my father could not provide in a physical presence, he made up for with cultural enrichment in the form of stories, prints, art, and amazing summers in Puerto Rico with him. The privilege of experiencing my culture both in the US and Puerto Rico is not lost on me. It has allowed me to see the complexities of being Latino and the need to empower ourselves by understanding our amazing story. Recipes from Yuíza’s Kitchen is a chapter of that story, that is aching to be told. Allow us to bring you with us.
In order to create this documentary, we need to raise at least $5,000 USD. Our project was recently rewarded a small grant from Temple University's Center for the Arts Dean's Grant for Student Research to help kick off our project! So while we have managed to cut costs by using film equipment from Temple University, bringing together a crew of skilled student filmmakers, and applying any grant money we have received, there are still aspects of the project that require money before we can put the documentary together.
The key to finding these recipes is going to explore their origins. This means following Pon and its fellow lost recipes back to their homeland – Puerto Rico. We are looking for help to fund travel costs for our crew of four, in particular transportation expenses such as air fare to get to the islands and a car rental once we are there so we can lug the necessary film equipment with us to film. In addition, as we are asking cooks and artists to share their time and their secret recipes, we want to be sure to show our appreciation by supporting their work. The budget includes a small stipend for their help.
After the documentary has been shot, a portion of the funds raised will go towards post-production expenses. While this includes professional sound design and color correction, the money will be dedicated to distribution costs such as entering film festivals, making DVDs, and putting together screening events. Entering our documentary at film festivals is a strategy that allows us to reach different large audiences all at once, and to share this enriching experience with as many people as possible.
Most importantly, we want this documentary to be a resource for the Norris Square community and for anyone trying to understand their identity. For this reason, distribution funds will be dedicated to making DVDs and arranging screenings. It is extremely important to us to make this film accessible.
Finally, we have planned a final screening event in Philadelphia where we can bring together the Norris Square community, and ideally those from Puerto Rico that helped us, to watch the documentary and celebrate the rediscovery of these dishes – by eating them, of course! Not only is this an opportunity to show the film, but also an opportunity to make these connections between the states and the islands tangible.
All of the above are essential to pushing this documentary to its potential – we promise!
As children of immigrants and members of the second generation, we are committed to showcasing stories that explore the theme of identity and how it is shaped by culture, whether that culture is ethnic, religious, generational, or familial. We want to share ways that will help others who want to understand their identity but do not know where to begin.
It’s our hope that Recipes from Yuíza’s Kitchen will prove the importance paying respect to where we come from. NSNP once had a program called The Puerto Rican Experience, which helped bring Puerto Rican youth from Philadelphia to the islands to experience the culture and lifestyle that is inaccessible in the States. This trip helped to build strong ties between Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia to Puerto Ricans on the islands, building relationships and understandings across borders and waters. This trip also encouraged youth to take pride in their roots and take responsibility in preserving their culture. We feel that it is important to help give youth this opportunity, and support them in their journey to understand their identity.
If any of our spiel sounds interesting to you, please donate and help us make this documentary possible! On the right of your browser you will find some awesome perks that we want to share to show our appreciation! Even small contributions will help, but if you can’t donate you can still show your support by sharing our video and telling all your friends about our mission!
If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to contact us at YuizasKitchen@gmail.com. Thank you for your support!