Photography by Danny Fulgencio

Jin-Ya Huang was just 13 years old when her dad lost his job in Taipei, Taiwan. “Struggling to feed six girls, my parents made the tough decision to emigrate,” she says. The family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Huang’s uncle needed help starting a Chinese restaurant. When the eatery expanded to Dallas, her parents bought a location and began helping other immigrants. Huang’s mother, Margaret, was passionate about hiring immigrant women and teaching them to cook. When she died of cancer in 2015, Huang felt compelled to honor her mother and continue the good work of empowering vulnerable women. In 2017, Huang started Break Bread, Break Borders, a catering company that partners with local chefs to teach immigrant women the culinary and business skills needed to be successful on their own. Her work breaking barriers through food earned her a spot in the Time article, “Meet 27 People Bridging Divides Across America.”

On Immigrating

“It was devastating. I’d left all my friends. I had to start from ground zero. I barely spoke English when I arrived. The school I attended started an ESL program for me. It really put me in touch with those feelings of displacement. For the vulnerable population we serve in our community, it’s close to PTSD-type trauma. It gave me a window to peek into what that’s like.”

On Inspiration

Her inspiration:

“My mom was a chef, and she was a community leader who wanted to do something for immigrants and refugees. She hired them to work in the kitchen, trained them and sent them to do bigger and better things in the community. My mom always taught us to practice compassion and kindness and to show up. There are days when we don’t know what we’re doing, but we still show up. That’s how we build trust in the community.”

On Her Company

Starting Break Bread, Break Borders:

“I was in a corporate job when I started Break Bread, Break Borders. I was a single mom holding down a full-time job while doing a side hustle, so I focused on doing catering. It is set up as a stepping stone. A couple have gone on to set up their own catering businesses, some go on to work in other restaurants and some decide it was a good temporary job to get experience.”

On Barriers

The importance of breaking barriers:

“The policies around us aren’t exactly built for compassion building or investment in people who are the most vulnerable, but the hardest working, in the population. It’s understanding their potential and maximizing that for our backyard and beyond. When we cater, we don’t just drop off the food, we do storytelling. They interact with diners about who they were before, what it was like to live abroad in refugee camps, how they escaped and how they came to America. When you put a face with the food, it’s tough to hate somebody up close.”

On COVID-19

How she operated during the coronavirus:

“Our ladies have gone through wars and lived through refugee camps, but their fear of the virus is pretty high. They’re experiencing this just like millions of Americans, but with the compounded issue of the language barrier. We can barely get the right information speaking English. Many of them have family members with underlying health conditions. Our focus shifted to short-term fundraising to meet the needs of the refugee population — helping them take care of rent, assisting with paying utilities and trying to get them some funding so they can feed their families. We can’t be everything for everyone, but we’re doing the best we can to help them with the situation.”

On Gender Discrimination

“It’s difficult for women to really run a lot of things because of discrimination. Women-of-color businesses tend to not have as much access to loans. A couple of our ladies have had to ask their husbands if they could come and cook with us. When we look for mentors, we look for chefs in the industry who are people of color and are in successful places. It shows them that being a woman is powerful.”

On Time

On being featured in Time:

“It was surprising for them to reach out. We never advertise. We just do the work that is supposed to be done. It was a huge honor. The 26 other people are just incredible game changers. We have so much gratitude being included in something that big. It makes us wonder what we did to actually get here. There are so many people who do this work and never get recognized.”


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