Cooking up unity in the shadow of the capital

News out of the nation’s capital these days is grim. Partisan fights plague our legislative bodies, with deep divisions boiling over and emanating outward to the rest of the country, forcing regular people to choose a side. But in the shadow of the Capitol building, just over the river in Alexandria, VA, a group of strangers from different backgrounds spent their Friday night huddled around a table discussing a Recipe for Unity.

What exactly is that recipe to bring people together?

Rise Above Recipe for Unity

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The Alexandria, VA Recipe for Unity


  • One local rec center, big and bright enough to house a long continuous table
  • 28 people from different backgrounds and parts of the community
  • Equal parts people and stories of how particular recipes have brought families together, healed sickness, and spread love
  • A host to organize the mixing of ingredients, like Mary’s Center, an Affiliate of UnidosUS based in DC
  • A leader to help share the recipe, like Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg, a fierce believer in the importance of diversity and inclusion


Rise Above Recipe for Unity

  1. Gather all your ingredients into one large room at the Charles Houston Recreation Center in Alexandria.
  2. Sprinkle in food and libations from several local restaurants that represent the strong mix of cultures present in the local community.
  3. Mix the guests together, using light facilitation to create the most flavorful conversations.
  4. Sweeten with a closing discussion (and peach pie) that allows guests to reflect on what they heard and learned during their time together.
  5. Bake for two hours at a comfortable room temperature.
  6. Serve leftovers in Tupperware containers to the guests so the meal may continue to be shared when they depart.

Rave reviews

Together, the 28 guests discussed foods that were important to them. Though their dishes originated in countries across the world – Colombia, Ireland, Russia, Mozambique, Mexico, Peru, Ethiopia, Brazil, and more – they all shared similar stories of preparing and sharing food with their families. The spices varied but the meanings were consistent: “Food has tended to play a gathering role for all of us,” said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, Deputy Vice President at UnidosUS, who attended Friday night’s meal.

The meal received strong reviews from all those who tasted it.

“It’s a must that we band together and that we speak out. Our country is stronger because of its diversity.” –Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg

Rise Above Recipe for Unity

“You can tell that we’ve all come from somewhere, because our recipes and traditions are coming from other countries. I’m not from Colombia but I know the Colombian dishes that were discussed. We have gotten to know many of the dishes from other places because we live in such a diverse country. That’s what the U.S. is all about.” –Liz Uria, Family Support Specialist at the Parent Training Center (PCATC) of Virginia

“When we learn recipes from people in our families, we don’t know at that time that we’ll cherish that. The little things are everlasting to us. A lot of the recipes are things that sound really simple, but they’re made out of love so it adds up to a lot. We all have that in common.” –Denise

“Through our meal, we talked about how we deal with our differences and how those differences are beautiful, and how they make up the fabric of our communities.” –Maria Gomez, President and CEO of Mary’s Center

Rise Above Recipe for Unity

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