Stirring the Melting Pot: Food and the Performance of Inclusion in Newark’s Ironbound Neighborhood

Lori Danielle Barcliff Baptista
Performance Studies, Northwestern University - UNITED STATES, 2009
June, 2009
Doctoral thesis


Stirring the Melting Pot: Food, Identity and the Performance of Inclusion in Newark's Ironbound Community documents and critically assesses how Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants adapt foods from their native homelands to navigate in a new social setting - a post-industrial urban New Jersey neighborhood that has served as a transitional space for immigrants since the mid-17 th century. Journalists, historians and local residents credit a close-knit, aspirant Portuguese immigrant community as one of the first ethnic enclaves to sustain a lasting presence in the neighborhood. From the 1960's - 1980's, Portuguese immigration to Newark peaked. During this period, an exceptional number of family run ethnic food markets, cafés, bakeries and restaurants began to spring up in the neighborhood to accommodate the needs of the growing community. Regional English-language journalists writing during this time often invited cosmopolitan visitors to "discover" what they characterized as an especially hospitable, affordable, and exotic community through its restaurants, markets, cafés and cultural attractions.

As Portuguese immigration began to decline, immigration from Latin America, most notably Brazil, increased significantly. Mirroring many of the Portuguese settlement, celebratory and entrepreneurial patterns, Brazilian residents have also established a visible presence within the public food culture of the neighborhood. Using historical and ethnographic research methods, I demonstrate how food avails itself as a performance medium through which central political, economic and social desires and concerns are negotiated in Newark's Ironbound community. Considering food as both commodity and cultural conduit, in my critical analysis I position food at the center of dynamic social processes of assimilation, global migrations, cultural pluralism, urban planning, and ethnic festivities in the Ironbound.