BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Isha Sumner is making the same coconut flour tortilla that her grandmother used to make in Honduras. She says it’s the perfect representation of the influences she’s had all her life.
What You Need To Know
- Isla Sumner is a Garífuna woman who migrated from Honduras as a teen
- Sumner decided to write the first formal cookbook to preserve Garífuna recipes, history and culture
- Sumner said she struggled to find a book publisher because most were unfamiliar with Garífuna people or their cuisine
Sumner is Garífuna, descendants of Native Arawak Indians and Africans that occupied the Leeward islands in the Southern Caribbean, until they were pushed out by the British. The Garífunas settled in different parts of Central America, where the different ingredients of their influences merged to create their cuisine.
“There’s this element of Garífuna food that it’s homey, comforting, it’s delicious because of the coconuts and coconut oil and roots, seafood," said Sumner. "Everything is fresh. As much as it is simple food, the food is always fresh. It’s well seasoned and tasty."
Sumner wants the world to experience it. Years ago, she decided she would write the first Garífuna cookbook called “Weiga/Let’s Eat,” to share recipes, along with the historical origin of each dish.
“Being that we are migrant people, we are constantly moving from place to place. One of the things that we constantly hold on to is our food," she said.
Cataloguing the cuisine has come with challenges for Sumner. She had a hard time finding a book publisher because most had never heard of the Garífunas or their cuisine. But she was determined.
“Once they get the cookbook, I want them to walk away with a sense of culture, with a sense of embracing someone else's experiences," said Sumner.
When she is not in the kitchen, Sumner is pursuing her passion and pride for her heritage in other ways. She works as an advocate for immigrants who are new to New York City, as she once was as a teenager.
“What I do in the kitchen and what I do in the street has many similarities because it’s about people. It's about the community. It’s about uplifting, serving,” she said.
Sumner says it’s important for the Hispanic community to keep its traditions, even as they assimilate into American life. For her family that starts in the kitchen.
“Whenever my mom calls us to come and gather together, we feel at home," she said. "We feel that we can just reminisce about how we grew up back home and I’m sure when individuals get to make their recipes, they are also looking for that sense of home, even though we are far away from our original place.”
Her cookbook called Weiga/Let’s Eat, will be available in 2022. She hopes it will give the world a taste of home.