When you make it to the big time, you sometimes forget where you came from. But La Cocina wants to make sure that doesn’t happen with its San Francisco Street Food Festival, now in its fourth year.
That’s why dozens of community members, including Supervisor David Campos, gathered on Wednesday at Parque Ninos Unidos to reinforce the incubator kitchen’s mission of helping low-income women, most of them immigrants, start their own businesses.
This year’s event, taking place in the Mission this Saturday, is expected to draw 50,000 people and highlight 85 vendors, said Caleb Zigas, La Cocina’s executive director and the festival’s organizer. “It gets so big, you forget why we’re here.”
“People don’t really understand what it takes to be an owner-operated business, let alone one run by someone who’s chased down their dream and done all that it takes to get it,” he added.
Campos thanked La Cocina for its work in helping the immigrant community and encouraged people to remind others of the festival’s foundation: “To celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of the neighborhood.”
To help keep the event focused on the community, La Cocina will turn Parque Ninos Unidos into a gathering point for families throughout the day on Saturday. Volunteers will paint faces, give away free school supplies and hold raffles while food vendors dish out their specialty eats.
This year is the first time that such a spot will be provided, said La Cocina’s Margarita Rojas. “Sometimes the festival gets too crowded and we don’t want families to be discouraged.”
The Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) will also have a booth at the park to talk about President Obama’s deferred action plan for young undocumented immigrants, which started accepting applications yesterday. Under the program, some immigrants under the age of 30 will no longer face immediate deportation and can apply for a temporary work permit.
Lorena Melgarejo from CARECEN advised parents at Wednesday’s meeting to take action. “We as moms have the opportunity. You have the voice. Tell [your children] to apply. We are responsible for the youngsters.”
One of the mothers Melgarejo was speaking to was Alicia Villanueva, who is in the second year of La Cocina’s program and owns Tamale Los Mayos. Like many immigrant business owners, Villanueva worries about her son’s legal status.
Pedro is a 20-year-old undocumented student at San Francisco State, studying environmental science. He’s eligible for the plan’s benefits and he’d give anything to get a job permit and a license, he said on Wednesday as his mom served up tamales and aguas frescas to the crowd.
Villanueva has high hopes for Pedro’s future, just as she’s hopeful for the future of her business. The mother from Mazatlan, Mexico, plans to open her own restaurant one day. For now, she’s thankful for all that La Cocina has done for her — helping her go from a senior citizen caretaker who sold tamales outside of church and to car mechanics, to a business owner who employs five others. She now sells tamales at Justin Herman Plaza and Fort Mason’s Off the Grid events.
“La Cocina has helped to bring my dream alive,” said Villanueva in Spanish. “No dream is sweeter than the one I’m living now.”
As for Pedro, he has his own thoughts on his mother: “I’m proud of her. She made something out of nothing.”