Nigerian-Immigrant-Tunde-Wey-Successful-ChefTunde Wey is on a mission to “unfetter diners from the tedium of modern American cuisine.” The Nigerian-born chef came to the United States at age 16 with plans to become a doctor. But, after living in Detroit for 15 years, he finally realized that what he really wanted to do was cook.

Geographically just about the size of Texas, Nigeria’s population totals at about 150 million people. Since the country is the most populous in Africa, Wey always felt perplexed as to why food from his homeland was not more obtainable in the United States.

After co-founding a restaurant in Detroit, the Nigerian immigrant began his own “pop-up” restaurant. He aimed to explore America, as well as to introduce people to the food he grew up with. The name of his business, Lagos, is the name of his hometown in Nigeria.

With Greyhound busses as his primary mode of transportation, Wey impressed diners in New Orleans, Chicago and Buffalo and then headed for the East Coast. He would rent out different spaces, sometimes a restaurant and other times communal kitchens, and make his crowd a delicious feast. After continued success, his one-night, one-man restaurant started selling out.

Each night, the chef brought along with him a bag filled with cooking supplies such as alligator pepper seeds, calabash nutmeg and uda, which is a kind of pepper. Wey likened it to a doctor’s medicine bag. He had no formal training and mostly went by what he observed in his childhood kitchen.

“I learned how to cook from watching my parents, my aunt, a lot of YouTube videos… The benefit that I have is that I grew up with this food, so I know exactly what it’s supposed to taste like,” he said.

In fact, as he gained footing in his own kitchen, Wey became more and more aware of how much he missed his family, who he had not seen in over seven years. It is rare, but in some instances, children are sent over to the United States on their own and then later sponsor family members to emigrate and join them. Charitable groups and advocacy organizations help with this process.

Wey was getting major attention from top-notch chefs and was asked to go to Los Angeles to cook with celebrity chef Roy Choi in February 2015. But, his trip came to screeching halt when a team of border patrol agents stopped his Greyhound bus near El Paso, Texas. They discovered that his Nigerian passport had long expired.

It was back in 2007 when he allowed his student visa to expire. Wey said, “I just thought: I’ll fix this. I’m going to go back to school, finish and adjust my status somehow. And so it was something I kept putting off.” Nearly 50% of all illegal immigrants are in the same predicament. They let their visas expire and fail to renew them.

Wey spent a few months detained in El Paso and felt as though all of his success in America had hit a wall. Fortunately for him, he had a clean record and many friends and family members who managed to raise $6,000 to bail him out and keep him from being deported.

The backup in immigration court means that Wey’s appointment is not until 2017. A judge will then determine his fate: whether he can stay or whether he must say goodbye to all of his dreams and go back to Nigeria. Until then, he plans to keep cooking and has achieved a prime spot for a new restaurant in New Orleans’ St. Roch Market.

Wey is one of 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, according to the U.S. Center for Immigration Studies. The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that illegal immigrants make up 5.1 percent of the U.S. labor force.

– Lillian Sickler

Sources: NPR, Lagos, Metro Times, Eater, Laws, New York Times, Pew Research
Photo: Pinterest

Myths about immigration
Immigration reform has been a heated issue for the past century, as lawmakers argue over the impact immigration has on American society and the best way to handle it. The myths about immigration that surround the topic have existed for nearly as long. Here are the top myths that seem to follow the discussion of immigration and prevent progress from being made toward positive change.

Myth 1: “Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes but still get benefits.”

It is estimated that in 2010, undocumented immigrants paid $10.6 billion in taxes. Like every American consumer, immigrants pay sales tax and property taxes on any apartment or home bought or rented. More than half pay federal, state, Social Security and Medicare taxes. Despite this, they are not actually eligible to receive any of these benefits. Even legal immigrants often find it difficult to obtain Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps.

Myth 2: “Immigrants have a negative impact on the U.S. economy.”

Due to the 77 million Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, a smaller number of workers will have to support an increasing number of retirees. A growing immigrant population will help account for the decrease in the workforce. It is also estimated that undocumented immigrants contribute to economic growth by $36 billion a year.

Myth 3: “Most immigrants are undocumented.”

In reality, roughly two-thirds of immigrants live in the U.S. legally as naturalized citizens or permanent residents. Additionally, about 40 percent of the 10.8 million immigrants currently residing here illegally arrived in the country through legal channels but overstayed their visas.

Myth 4: “Immigrants don’t want to learn English.”

According to Forbes, roughly 40 percent of immigrants speak reasonable English when they enter the country. There is also a clear three-generation pattern, in which the first generation may speak limited English, the second generation is bilingual and the third generation speaks only English.

Myth 5: “It’s easy to enter the U.S. legally.”

Actually, many people trying to enter the U.S. legally have been waiting nearly 20 years to do so. Much of this is due to backlogs and annual limits on immigration that do not match the demand for entry. Often, access to the country is limited to those who are trained in skills that are in short supply, seeking political asylum or joining immediate family.

Myth 6: “Immigrants take jobs from Americans.”

Due to differences in education level, whether in the country they live or which occupations they work in, immigrants and native-born American workers often do not compete for the same jobs. In addition to this, immigrants contribute to job creation as both entrepreneurs and consumers.

Myth 7: “Undocumented immigrants bring crime.”

Randel K. Johnson, Senior Vice President of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently cited research that shows quite the opposite: “Between 1990 and 2010, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9[percent] to 12.9[percent] and the number of unauthorized immigrants tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. During the same period, FBI data indicates that the violent crime rate declined 45[percent] and the property crime rate fell 42[percent].”

America is a nation of immigrants. As clichéd as it is, it’s true. But this fact is often conveniently forgotten in the discussion of positive immigration reform, reform that has the potential to grow the economy and create jobs. Overall, reforming the system to allow for easier legal access to the U.S. has the potential for substantial positive impact across the country.

— Kristen Bezner

Sources: American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Forbes, Teaching Tolerance, Upworthy, US Chamber of Commerce, Washington Post 1, Washington Post 2

Photo: AEI