We had the good fortune of connecting with Jin-Ya Huang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jin-Ya, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I grew up in Taipei, Taiwan, I came to the States when I was 13. My dad had lost his job, so when my aunt and uncle called and said they needed help with their restaurant business, my parents said yes. My family escaped Communism to take refuge in Taiwan, then Texas. My sisters and I were raised to volunteer at nursing homes, sew blankets for the homeless, and cook for the hungry at the temple. Since I didn’t speak English, art became my universal language. My mom, Margaret Huang, was a chef, she was fluent in using food as an art form and a great equalizer. Growing up, I saw firsthand how lives were transformed when she hired immigrants and refugees to come and work in our kitchen, train them with job skills, and sent them onto bigger and better opportunities. After losing my mom to cancer, I started Break Bread, Break Borders to honor her legacy. BBBB is developing a culinary training program to empower refugee women from war torn countries with job opportunities, by sharing their food and culture through storytelling, we break bread with the communities, and break down borders at the same time. My mom instilled in me that in servant leadership the sense of doing what’s right, being a good neighbor, and being compassionate every day. These values also guide me as a Social Practice Artist, I am compelled to tell the truth. So when the communities ask me for water, I don’t bring them fire. It has built the foundation of how I serve our communities best. I’m grateful that I get to use my superpowers for good, and living my purpose each single day.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a Social Practice Artist, I make art that make social impact. So when the communities ask me for water, I don’t bring them fire. I was just in a show where I built a sculpture from cosmetics that addresses colorism, how skin color set up in a caste system is used as currency. I’m an immigrant, so I’ve always made artwork about my diaspora experiences. Racial equity is definitely a main theme in my art, and I often use the art form of oral history to deliver these messages. Break Bread, Break Borders is a classic example of this – it was born out of the communities’ needs for job opportunities, and the art project became a social enterprise, to supply the demand. Building bridges in this realm is extremely difficult but also very rewarding. It brings me closer to my neighbors and I enjoy working the fruits of labor together with my brothers and sisters in the movement. My mom taught me the importance of building trust. I may not know what I’m doing, but I will show up. If I don’t understand, I shall ask for help. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, sometimes it’s just rolling up my sleeves to take out the trash. It’s being where I’m needed the most to help, help me serve my purpose here. My mom left this world a better place for me – so as a single mother, I want to leave this world a better place than the way I found it, for my son to grow up in. I want people to know I was fortunate that even although I grew up poor, my parents valued education immensely. They didn’t have access to higher education, so they made sure we did. They sacrificed everything to get us out of poverty in the farming villages of southern Taiwan. They saved up enough money for me to take art lessons and fostered my creative interest ever since I was three years old. Thanks to my family I grew the appreciation for imagination, and learned how to look forward to create my own future. I was lucky to have teachers who believed in me, mentored me and sponsored me. I have friends who get me, who understand my passions in life and want to help realize those dreams. You have to find your tribe. You have to find your superpowers. You have to use your voice. None of this was done overnight. All of this was the work of our communities lifting me up. I wouldn’t be here without their love and support. I’ve been the recipient of such grace and generosity. It’s simply time to give back.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We’d definitely have to bond over food, so a series of restaurants like Sandwich Hag, Hello Dumpling, and Jeng Chi Chinese Noodle House, just as starters. Drinks at Goodfriends, Here Lounge, Wild Detectives in Bishop Arts Oak Cliff and any good o’ Karaoke spot. We’d visit the Arts District downtown and check out the DMA, Nasher Sculpture Center, Crow Museum of Asian Art, plus hop over to Ft. Worth and see the Modern and the Amon Carter Museum then the Stockyards. We’d walk in the Arboretum by White Rock, and hike at the Trinity Audubon Nature Center. Then we would shop at the Farmers Market and cook at home, just chill and catch up on life. That’d be a great week.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My mom, she’s my pillar, my North Star, my guiding light. She deserves all the credit for the woman I have become today. Also – The incredible refugee women, the wonderful BBBB Community Cooks, they’re my inspiration. Their grit, resilience, and their talent never cease to amaze me. Through war, famine and trauma, they find the will to survive and support their families. They want to work, contribute to society and to help their neighbors. They want to achieve economic dignity, they want to practice kindness, they want to show the importance to eradicate xenophobia, they want the best for their children, they want to help people understand women are strong, they want to share their rich culture and heritage, they want to show peace by cooking the dishes they love. They have so much hope for humanity – it’s beautiful to see.
Linkedin: Jin-Ya Huang
Facebook: Break Bread, Break Borders
Mei-Chun Jau Rey Barrera Brian Maschino Meredith Lawrence