Because of our political difference, we have ended our collaboration with World Central Kitchen (WCK). We mention political differences because in our relationship with WCK, these were challenged to the point where we knew we needed to end our partnership. We were already struggling in our work with WCK due to distribution, pay, accessibility issues and ties with gentrifying forces when we found that they had worked with ICE during their aid work in Puerto Rico in 2017, and openly praised DHS police as allies in times of crisis then.
We are a small, undocumented family owned business and community space with deep ties in our neighborhoods, and we are people who believe and fight for a world where no human being is illegal, where there are open borders, families are not forcefully separated and our approach to harm in community is through restorative and transformative justice. We are grounded on those beliefs and know what that can look like in our lives, as we run a business and sustain a space for our communities. These beliefs, practices, and politics do not go away for us at times of crisis, but are as important and crucial if we want to not only survive this pandemia but also build solidarity and be true in our efforts.
We understand that WCK, as an organization, is distributing much needed food resources in different communities where food scarcity is constant and many other systemic issues have come to a breaking point in this pandemia. However, this does not mean an organization should not be held accountable to the community that needs their support, or that their system of organization and collaboration should not be questioned. Aid efforts should never put precarious communities in proximity to institutions and systems that harm or displace them, let alone even close to others who profit from their pain and exploitation. Aid efforts should be grounded on principles of social justice, mutuality, working class and poor people empowerment instead of policing, charity and profit.
We are working supremely hard to sustain this soup kitchen right now. We have yet to get any aid from any institution or organization, including consulates and the federal government. And to put things in perspective, we work to make 1000-1200 meals daily for people in need, out of which WCK was sponsoring 250 meals, at $10 a plate, which barely covered the cost of ingredients. We have done our own fundraising to be able to make up for the overhead costs. We noticed that WCK provided local, working class businesses less resources compared to other privileged restaurants, while also hearing that they had even more PPE resources that they were not sharing with our workers. This should not be the case, when there are organizations and people out there with vast resources that instead are put into public relations and elite businesses. Why should WCK work with mostly gentrifiers in the South Bronx, as well as BIDs and developers? When confronted, representatives of WCK would only say that they “do not discriminate” with regards to who is involved in aid efforts, but what we see is a pretty orchestrated effort by gentrifying businesses, elected officials and developer interests to gain public recognition as community benefactors while making way for a recovery that to them is founded on the displacement of working class and poor folk.
Not any organization or institution needs to be perfect in their aid. For example, we are going to partner with another organization that will offer $5 per plate rather than the $10 that we received with WCK, but we feel that the added troubles with WCK were too harmful to our community to let go unnoticed and unaccounted for.
The fact remains that WCK, in providing aid in Puerto Rico, had an easygoing relationship with police agencies, in this case ICE. To be specific, they coordinated and leveraged HSI officers to also provide WCK food through the network of their policing work. HSI is an investigative unit part of ICE, with the same powers and priorities and enforcing goals that answer to the same policies and higher level officials as any other part of ICE. When requested to explain their coordinated efforts with ICE in Puerto Rico, WCK chose to nitpick at the events there and deny knowledge of ICE policing agencies, how they intersect, and of the harm they all cause. WCK chose to display their founder as a model immigrant in order to score diversity and acceptance points. It is disconcerting to witness WCK’s indifference to how their aid efforts might benefit from and amplify historically harmful, violent and oppressive systems and institutions. It is concerning to think that they are currently at work in immigrant communities in the Bronx and Queens, areas highly impacted by this crisis, without check and engaging in data gathering as well.
On May 8, 2020, we terminated our partnership with WCK. We hope that in moving forward they are receptive to measures of accountability from the communities that they want to say they support.
We also ask that folks always keep in mind their own role in helping communities in crisis who are in need, in ways that will empower people and not expose them. We ask that folks who work with WCK or other big organizations keep in mind that there are ways to hold them accountable and ask for transparency, especially when a lot of data from poor, working class, undocumented communities is being gathered and there’s no clarity on how it is being used and secured. Finally, resources can be distributed equitably and with the purpose of empowering people in their own communities to support one another and local businesses can do the labor of insisting these resources are fairly given and don’t put us in precarious, exploitative situations. There are ways to do this together, grounded on principles of true empowerment and social justice.
Editor’s Note: On May 21, WCK issued a statement to Latino Rebels about this statement from La Morada.