“Food brings us together,” said Ruwedi Ali, a Somali immigrant who prepared a rice dish and fried plantains for TempoArt Portland’s second Welcome Feast on July 17 at Cove Street Arts. “To see all these people enjoying the meal I made is amazing.”

TempoArt’s summer project is a series of three Welcome Feasts in the Bayside neighborhood of Portland, with one last dinner Aug. 14.

“You have 80 or 90 strangers in a room and they get to know each other through food,” said Truc Huynh of Portland, who emigrated from Vietnam as a child.

“Culinary diplomacy reminds us of the common humanity among countries and peoples,” said Anna Ackerman of World to Table, a collaborative partner with TempoArt. “In taking part in tonight’s meal you are recognizing the incredible power of food and conversation to strengthen bonds between us, and to convey a message of acceptance and respect.”

Dinner guests were selected by a lottery system to attend the free event and assigned a random table number. “They mixed everybody up so I’m not here with people I know and neither is anyone else,” said board member Sarah Daignault.

“I describe it as going to a distant cousin’s wedding reception, and you don’t know anybody but get the best table,” said Maura McKenney of South Portland. “It was instant camaraderie.”


The dinners were planned to be held at Fox Street Field at the intersection with Anderson Street, beside Daniel Minter’s monumental “Mother’s Garden,” an installation of five monumental primary-colored figures, alluding to the African diaspora and the wave of immigration to Southern Maine.

But with rain threatening, the July dinner was moved down to Cove Street Arts, a new commercial modern art gallery in the neighborhood.

There, retired family doctor Laura Blutstein of Portland chatted with Annick Metoule, a recent immigrant who was a family doctor until leaving her home country of Gabon a few months ago. Now these two women live around the corner from each other and plan to stay in touch.

“Because I met her, this was fabulous,” Blutstein said.

“Fabulous,” Metoule agreed, smiling.

Sign up at welcomefeast.com through Wednesday for a chance to attend the Aug. 14 dinner. The lottery system is used because of the level of interest. For that same reason, there may be more dinners in the fall.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at amyparadysz@gmail.com.

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