[lg policy] At Vietnamese restaurants, Hispanic workers have become vital to survival

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jul 3 14:13:59 UTC 2012

At Vietnamese restaurants, Hispanic workers have become vital to survival

By Luz Lazo, Published: July 1

When the head cook of Viet Taste in Falls Church gets an order for a plate
of Bun Cha Hanoi, he knows exactly what to do.
He has cooked the pork dish — with vermicelli noodles, greens and pickled
vegetables — countless times and knows exactly how much fish sauce and
fresh herbs to add.

Outside his kitchen, the customers, most of them Vietnamese, are expecting
authentic Vietnamese cuisine. German Sierra, born in Honduras, makes sure
they get it. “When I left my country, I never imagined that I would be
cooking this food,” Sierra, 39, said in Spanish. He had never had
Vietnamese food and didn’t know anything about the cuisine until he came to
the United States 12 years ago.

Since then, Sierra has mastered the art of Vietnamese cuisine while working
at Asian restaurants in the Washington region. At Viet Taste in the Eden
Center, he is behind the stove 12 hours a day, six days a week. He said he
earns about $550 a week.
Sierra is one of many Hispanic immigrants working in the kitchens of
Washington area restaurants, an industry that is one of the largest
employers of immigrants. It is also the leading source of job growth for
Hispanics, the largest and the fastest growing ethnic community in the
country, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center report.

“Visit any food establishment in the region and you’ll find that the labor
force is mostly Hispanic,” said Benjamin Velasquez, executive chef at
Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in the District.
Velasquez, who has trained hundreds of local immigrant cooks in the past
three decades, said the trend is even true at non-Hispanic ethnic

Take the Eden Center, where most of the shops are owned and operated by
Vietnamese refugees and where many of the region’s 80,000 Vietnamese
Americans come to satisfy cravings for traditional Vietnamese iced coffee,
banh mi sandwiches and big bowls of pho noodle soup.

For owners of Vietnamese restaurants in the area, Hispanic workers have
become vital to the eateries’ survival. Vietnamese refugees who arrived in
the 1970s after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 are retiring.

“It is hard to find a chef now — a Vietnamese chef,” said Thi Quach, owner
of Viet Taste. “Most young Vietnamese people now, they tend to stay in
school and they do professional jobs, so they don’t want to stay in the
kitchen, and the older generation are getting old already.”

A new study suggests that recent Asian immigrants also tend to have higher
levels of education, the majority enter the country legally and they are
more likely to hold employment visas than immigrants from other countries.
By contrast, a larger percentage of Hispanic immigrants have arrived
undocumented and with lower levels of education, making them more likely
candidates for lower-paying jobs.

At the Eden Center, the immigrant influx is evident in conversations,
carried on not just in English or Vietnamese but in Spanish as well. A
supervisor at the popular deli Song Que is Hispanic, and his boss speaks
fluent Spanish. The manager of V3 Lounge, a Vietnamese nightclub, is also
Latino. Some of the bakers at Huong Binh Bakery & Deli are Hispanic women.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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