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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, November 30, 2023

Somerville Human Rights Commission to spotlight immigrant restaurant owners in new project

Davis Square is pictured on Oct. 19, 2017.

The Somerville Human Rights Commission is planning the production of a video documenting the experiences of the city's immigrant restaurant owners. Work on the project, which is called the “Immigrant Stories Project,” began at the commission's supplemental meeting on March 3. Members of the commission delivered an update during a regularly scheduled meeting on March 17.

"[The project] would like to celebrate the enrichments given to the community, from the diversity brought from immigrants … to highlight their own stories, their backgrounds, but also in order to achieve a better understanding of how we as a community, and especially specifically from the Human Rights Commission, can be supportive of their needs and their challenges," Human Rights Commission commissioner Lara Versari said at the March 17 meeting.

Much of the project's work so far has focused on composing letters to the immigrant business owners. Sidd Pattanayak, the member of the commission who ideated the project, has written a preliminary draft that includes questions for restaurant owners as well as directions for how to contribute to the project. The draft of the letter that will be sent to restaurant owners reflects the Commission's commitment to sharing the stories of immigrant business owners. 

"The Commission's purpose is to work towards achieving mutual respect and understanding among all individuals and groups in the City of Somerville, including the improvement of quality of public discourse," the draft reads. 

Versari explained why this project is important to her.

"I am mostly interested in inclusion and protection of the rights of immigrants and other minority communities," Versari said.  

Michael Henson, one of the commissioners of the Human Rights Commission, echoed Versari and reaffirmed his dedication to supporting immigrant communities.

The planned letter to immigrant business owners also reflects this passion, highlighting the Commission's appreciation of Somerville's diverse immigrant community.

"We would like to showcase the restaurants in our city that offer so many diverse cuisines that originate from Europe to Asia to Africa to South America, and everywhere in between," the draft reads. "And so many of these restaurants were started by immigrants who brought their native dishes from their home countries to America (and Somerville)." 

The letter asks recipients to record footage of the interior and exterior of their restaurants, their favorite dishes being prepared or served and their responses to a series of questions listed. The questions ask owners to focus on the history of their restaurants, the cuisine they serve and the challenges they have faced during the pandemic. The questions also ask owners to reflect on how their businesses might "[contribute] to the diversity of Somerville."  

Aside from the “Immigrant Stories Project,” the commission is currently working to combathate crimes, specifically by encouraging public discussion and education.

"I like to think that the HRC is able to maneuver when these things come up, you know, to try to address these things, and that's … why we're here," Henson said. 

Work on the “Immigrant Stories Project” will continue under a subcommittee organized by the Human Rights Commission. According to Henson, this group will fine-tune the letter before sending it. It will also compile video clips from business owners and edit them into one video, which will be distributed on YouTube and the city's other social media channels.