“We believe that immigrants are not only the consumers of art and culture, but we’re also the creators of it,” says Sheridan Aguirre, writer and producer of the new cooking show No Borders, Just Flavors, which premiered Thursday on YouTube.
It may seem like an unlikely maxim to power a cooking web series, but No Border, Just Flavors is no ordinary food show. Produced by the largest grassroots immigrant youth rights group in the country, United We Dream, the cooking competition features young people battling it out in the kitchen to see who has the better dish while sharing what their recipe means to them and indulging in the occasional dance break.
Aguirre, a DACA recipient themselves, serves as United We Dream’s Culture Change Strategist, a role they describe as being “responsible for working with our teams to develop strategies that utilize art and artists to create interventions that bring our positive stories and our positive values to the forefront. Basically, my every day looks like commissioning different artists, talking to them about what types of stories should be underneath or behind the inspiration of the art they create.”
Aguirre credits United We Dream’s youth members for the concept, developing it together when they convened in a writers’ room-type format to build out the show.
“Almost half of the folks who are a part of our cast, including our host, come from United We Dream’s membership. They’re folks who are youth organizers and activists in their communities, but they’re also artists themselves and culture makers themselves,” Aguirre tells Latino Rebels. “These are folks who are doing the work of creating transformative change in their communities.”
One such person is Morelys Urbano, an undocumented from the Dominican Republic who was part of United We Dream’s network before auditioning for the show. The college sophomore hosts the show with charisma and joy that radiates.
“Everyone was in a joyous spirit, the energy was amazing on set,” she recalls. “Definitely my favorite part (was) when we actually had to try the food.”
Each episode of No Borders, Just Flavors ends with Urbano busting out the Tupperware, something she says was absolutely not faked. “A couple of times we had problems because we had to save a plate for showing (the finished dish) and sometimes some people would go and eat the plate that was supposed to be saved! I think somebody had to cook their dish again to make that plate.”
And that sense of fun is pretty different from how immigrant youth usually see themselves depicted on screen. “When we focus only on the struggles of the immigrant community, and this is the kind of information that the immigrant community is constantly consuming, we’re not doing any good,” she says, before labeling most media depictions of immigrants “derogatory.”
But she’s not letting such depictions stop her.
“I’m going to do great things regardless of the fact that my humanity is not recognized,” Urbano says. “I had this identity awakening a few years ago, where I realized that the way in which I portray my immigration story was not (how) I wanted to show it. I would have interviews where I would always have to be complaining about the system and the laws until I came to an understanding with myself, about just the simple fact that I’m a human being. And immigration is a human right. And I’m here to stay.”
Now she brings joy and attracts it too, which is why she’s so active in United We Dream and their “community gathering” vibe. As a journalism student, she credits No Borders, Just Flavors with having “shaped my perspective on my future and everything that I want to do with my career. I definitely want to focus on media but in regards to the change that I want in my community.”
While Urbano hopes that Netflix picks up the show and takes it from a four-part 15-minute web series to something much larger, Aguirre likes the show’s home on YouTube, calling it “a place of opportunity for us to reach younger audiences. We knew that that’s where folks go to seek out stories for niche communities. We also know that sometimes they get misinformation or hurtful information about our communities (there) as well. So it was a great place for us to enter.”
Of course, Aguirre is also hoping for a second season so “more people can be in this space and shine.” Of the young people who star in the show and make up the United We Dream community, Aguirre says, “They want to live in a world that’s as free as that kitchen. They are people who come from all these different walks of life, but they have a story. They matter. They are inherently worthy of having joy, of laughing, of celebrating, of winning.”
“My hope is that young people, and anybody who watches this show, begins to see our immigrant community for who we are. We are a multiracial, multiethnic group of people. We are queer, we are trans, we have disabilities. We look all kinds of ways. But at United We Dream, we firmly believe that what binds us all together is our hope,” they say.
And that sense of hope, of possibility, of joy permeates this delightful cooking show that doesn’t seek to merely humanize immigrant youth, but rather celebrate them, reminding all of us how immigrants of all ages make our society so much richer.
Cristina Escobar is the entertainment reporter for Latino Rebels. She is also the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade