Our Table offers sense of belonging

Dilli Chapagai, immigrant and refugee liaison with the Greater Lansing Food Bank’s Garden Project, felt welcomed as a panelist at Food@MSU's inaugural Our Table on food access.

I was born in Bhutan, a small country between two giant countries: China and India. My family’s main occupation was farming: a tradition for generations. When I was 3 years old, my family –  along with other 80,000-plus residents of southern Bhutan – was evicted from the country in 1991. I lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 18 years, before resettling in Lansing in November 2008.

I started working at the Greater Lansing Food Bank’s Garden Project as an immigrant and refugee liaison in January 2016. I had previously worked with the Garden Project in the summer of 2013 as an AmeriCorps member. In my role, I work closely with immigrant and refugee gardeners from many countries. I help them adapt a little bit of their agrarian knowledge and skills so that they can make the best use of their techniques to maximize the fruit of their labor. The soil, climate, growing seasons and some growing techniques are a little different here compared to their native countries, so it is important for gardeners to understand that to grow food successfully.

To be honest, I was excited and worried at the same time before the Our Table event. I was excited because it was a talk on food access on the ground level. I would be able to talk on that issue through an immigrant and refugee’s perspective without needing the data to validate my point of view. I was worried because I was the only panelist who was not a native English speaker, and I was concerned people would have trouble understanding me with my accent. In addition, I would be looking at food access through a totally different lens than the others at the table and most of the audience. Will people be able to understand what I am saying? Will it make sense? Will I have a sense of belonging? These are the questions that worried me, but I was determined to give it a shot and see what happened.

On the day of the event, when I arrived at Cristo Rey Community Center, the location of the discussion, I was quite overwhelmed. I was worried that I wouldn’t have a sense of belonging like many other events I had attended. But to my surprise, people were coming to me with excitement, curiosity and eagerness to hear what I had to say about food access. After the event, people were thanking me, hugging me and trading business cards with me. I did feel good about it and one of my questions was answered: yes, I did feel the sense of belonging.

Our Table was a wonderful platform and opportunity for me. I do feel like this kind of discussion should happen further down in the grassroots level and should be viewed through different lenses in different communities, because I believe the best explanation and solution to any problem comes from the people and community within. Our Table is a much-needed talk series, and I hope Food@MSU will continue its work to further address such food issues in our communities.

Learn more about how Chapagai works to improve food access among immigrant and refugee populations in Food@MSU’s Q&A from July 2018. You can also contact him at dilli@glfoodbank.org.

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