Over the past few weeks I had a revelation. My art is still a work in progress but the love that guides my work is the greatest gift I have to offer. On Saturday May 24, I hosted a second large pop up at La Pena Cultural Cafe feeding over 150 hungry people treats from my homeland and I felt tears of despair and happiness all at the same time. Why despair you might ask? I couldn’t ask for better- a whole army of volunteers busting their asses to support me, including folks from my anti-imperialist soccer community and my fellow bakers at Arizmendi (pizza pros, I might add!); a sweet deal by La Pena to let us take over their space for a night; a wonderfully supportive community that is interested in seeing me succeed. My despair came from my ridiculous obsession with not letting folks down– my drive to have a perfect product got the best of me.
Saturday night was a night of paradox. We more than doubled the number of attendees and the cafe was PACKED with all the beautiful communities I’m so blessed to be a part of. And yet trying to scale up my dough proved to be a nightmare. Making 200 flatbreads fresh to order was a little over my head! The dough was acting up. The ovens were not hot enough. Things were taking too long. There were long lines of hungry people waiting patiently for their freshly baked flatbreads.
And then I realized that the environment created at La Pena, facilitated by my food production, was what mattered. I went out and watched the huge crowds of people sitting at their tables, laughing, eating, drinking– connecting. Little children eating my bread and parents catching up. I saw members of my soccer community sharing the work that they do to change the world beyond the pitch. I nervously went out to run some food to take a sneak peak at the mayhem and I got a round of applause. I was overwhelmed with emotions. My food was a medium for community-building. That is the gift that I am meant to give back to this world. My community feeds my soul and although I am still working on the gifts I am giving– and striving to give my best– it is the act of my giving that makes me know I’m in the right place in my life.
It is hard to be vulnerable. My food is my art in a way. And as an artist who is striving to develop my best art, I have to accept that I will not appeal to everyone’s taste. All I can do is put myself out there in the most authentic way possible and hope that my community will benefit from what I have to offer. It is the love of community, culture, and what I do that is the grounding force that guides Reem’s and its evolution.
Thank you to all who came out to try my product and be a part of my story in the journey to having an Arab Bakery in the Bay Area. We were fortunate enough to team up with folks from Super Juiced to provide fresh healthy organic juices for the resilient people of Oakland. And your reception to all of our products was amazing. The support from our community helps nourishes us as artists and entrepreneurs and in return we hope to nourish our community with fresh wholesome food and drink, all prepared with love.
I am proud that La Pena was transformed during my pop up. There is not a better community space I can think of to do this sort of thing. La Pena has a legacy of being a space for activists and lovers of social justice to build movements through culture and community. Over the years, it has had its challenges but it still remains an anchor in the community. One friend relayed to me that on the night of my pop up she heard an elder woman share, “This is what La Pena felt like back in the day. This feels great.”