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Pho sets the table to celebrate immigrant communities: A call for recipes

July 9, 2021

Pull up a chair, to join Loan and Dai Huynh at their kitchen table, where Ph? (Pho) defines Vietnam like no other dish. Take in their recipe, spiced by star anise and cinnamon, providing depth and dimension through fresh chicken and broth. Then take out your pen, to share with us your dish, the one that says "home" for you, bridging from your old country to build new community.

The Advocates for Human Rights assists people seeking asylum in the United States, from countries around the world. By doing this, as Loan reminds us, "We, you and I, have the opportunity to save a life."

We would like to raise funds for this continued work by creating a cookbook to tell the stories of courageous refugees and asylum seekers, in part through recipes from their homelands. Our small volunteer team working to publish this book seeks connection to people willing to share their stories or recipes. We understand that not all people wish to be named, and welcome contributions of many kinds. We also welcome contributions from staff and volunteers, who have encountered the world through travel or relationship in their work with The Advocates.

Loan and Dai Huynh share their family recipe for Vietnamese Beef Pho

To inspire your thoughts, here are a few from Loan and Dai, sisters who fled Vietnam with their family in 1975, racing along the beach the night after Saigon fell, in a jeep chased by shells exploding. When they arrived to the refugee camp in Fort Chafee, Arkansas, they were just five and six years old. The United States offered both challenge and promise. Loan recalls her excitement holding a pretty scroll, the Declaration of Independence handed out during an elementary school Bicentennial celebration in Reston, Virginia. Yet as she and Dai walked home that day, schoolmates attacked them - their first experience of anti-immigrant sentiment and racism. Growing up between cultures, the girls felt that they did not belong to any culture. Yet the girls triumphed, again and again.

Loan earned her law degree, and moved to Minnesota for a legal fellow position with The Advocates in 1996. She now is the Chair of the Immigration Department at Fredrikson & Byron and serves on the Board of Directors for The Advocates for Human Rights. Her experience growing up as a girl refugee in the US was a driving force in her decision to seek a career in human rights. Dai is Vice President of Global Branding and Marketing for Paul Brown Hawaii. Prior to this, she was a features writer for the Houston Chronicle for more than 20 years and is a James Beard award recipient for her writing.

Loan has found, through decades of talking with people, that food offers "a wonderful segue into their lives and experiences." Talking about food opens people up. Dai has found that "one of the most fascinating aspects is how people translate the food of their culture when they come to the United States." People transform the food into something that bridges their homeland to their new country.

Pho is "not a difficult dish to make if you know the steps," says Dai. Beef bones that cook for hours, "to get all the wonderful goodness out of it." The spices you add, "to get all the complex flavors." Pho is a dish that "layers."

"Pho is my mom," both women say. Like matzo ball soup for the Jewish community or tamales for the Mexican community, Pho is "the one dish that mom makes for you that brings you straight home." Pho spans across Vietnam, the "heart and soul" for many families. Yet everyone has their own version. "We think our version's the best, of course," say Loan and Dai. The Huynhs cook Pho for Christmas Eve, still. They cook Pho for many friends and family. Through sharing Pho, Loan and Dai build community, here.

You'll find Loan and Dai Huyhn's recipe for Vietnamese Beef Pho above. We hope you have a "pho-nomenal" time making this traditional Vietnamese dish!

Food is a pillar that offers comfort, provides security, and links us to our homeland and past traditions. Just as food may help us to rebuild our homes in a new land, food may allow us to create new communities when it is shared. Whatever your country of origin, do you have a family or a national recipe that defines home for you? It could be momos from Nepal, spring rolls from Viet Nam, hummus from the Middle East or any unique favorite from around the world. Can you help? Would you be willing to share your story and recipe with us?

At a time when immigration has come under attack, it is more important than ever to remember that people who emigrate to the United States enhance our communities with wonderful traditions, old and new, and that we are all the better for it. If you'd be willing to join this effort, please contact Amy Bergquist at and Linda Svitak at

by Linda Svitak and Christin Eaton, volunteers with The Advocates for Human Rights

Document: Recipe: Huynh's Vietnamese Beef Pho