As Burners, we’re accustomed to coming up with creative and collaborative solutions in unusual circumstances while working around unanticipated limitations. Even in the face of a pandemic, folks all over the world continue to apply community, immediacy, and technology to address (what we hope are) once-in-a-lifetime challenges.
It’s no surprise, then, that Burner ingenuity prevailed in the circuitous origin story of Pedacito de la Tierra (A Little Piece of Home), a live, virtual potluck and film screening that evolved and morphed over time — from a cross-border feast, to a film about a haven for migrants, to a virtual communal meal and film premiere — adapting as circumstances changed for the producers, the communities involved, and the world.
You are warmly invited to participate in the remarkable gathering of community that resulted — Pedacito de la Tierra is a distributed community meal, and inquiry about home. It’s also the kick-off of a global movement to create sustainable spaces of hope, and refuge for people experiencing migration.
On Saturday, February 6, 2021 at 11am PST, Burners Without Borders (BWB), nonprofit partner Alight, and residents of Casa de la Misericordia at the US/Mexico border are inviting YOU to prepare a meal at home, and join others around the world for a feast, a film, celebration and conversation.
In preparation for this experience, we’ve created a toolkit to guide you. In this toolkit you’ll find the recipe we’ll cook together and the ingredients needed, background on Pedacito de la Tierra, and more.
How did an international team of Burners, creatives, and nonprofit community organizers co-create this multi-phased cross-border celebration during a time when COVID severely limits our capacity to gather and co-create?
We asked one of the organizers, Burners Without Borders’ Christopher Breedlove, to fill us in on the backstory: an epic journey from Black Rock City, to a migrant center in the border town of Nogales, Mexico, to all of you.
How did ‘Pedacito de la Tierra’ come about?
Breedlove: For BWB, it started a year ago when a chef named Jesse Bloom reached out to us with this vision of creating ‘The Feast’ a thousand-person dinner on playa about imagining a world without hunger. And you know, it was a great experiment on playa. We had [the] Abraxas [mutant vehicle] come by, we had musicians, and we had Zulu dancers. In a symbolic way, we had this beautiful celebration of eating together and looking at what happens when we communally share food and share an experience, and dream about that more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible, particularly around food — all while raising money for Food Shift, a non-profit in Oakland working on food issues.
Leaving Black Rock City, that team felt inspired. We continued our conversations and imagined theatrical experiences that could happen at borders around the world, showcasing what it’s like for neighbors to come together and share a meal when there are these artificial lines on the earth that keep us separated.
That team formed. Chef Jesse, Chef Kai Schoenhals, Molly Rose of BWB, and Felicia Dalton all went down [to Mexico] and started to explore what could happen on the US/Mexico border. Our ultimate vision, what we wanted was Abraxas and Mayan Warrior on either side of the border sharing a sound line and then building a table along either side and having this Burner experience of bringing people together and breaking bread. There was a lot of support for it. But obviously COVID came up and all of that had to be put on hold.
What transpired while your crew was in Mexico that led to the current project?
Breedlove: While we were on that trip, we started to make connections with people. We started to make connections with people in the Mexican government. We started to make connections with other not-for-profits. And one of the nonprofits we got connected to was called Alight, which is a really radical not-for-profit up in Minneapolis. We also got connected with this gentleman named Ronald Rael, who is an architecture professor at Berkeley. You’ve probably seen his project where he built these pink seesaws on the US/Mexico border. His project was just recognized by the Design Museum. Those were two connections that felt really good to us.
We wanted to make sure to keep up with them. And later on in the summer, we reached out and said, “Hey, what are you guys doing?” It turns out that Alight was going to be partnering with Ronald Rael to build an “horno” on the border, at a [migrant] center [Casa de la Misericordia]. It’s the only open migrant shelter along the Arizona-Mexico border, in Nogales.
Can you tell us more about Alight’s project at the US/Mexico border?
Breedlove: Alight is building human-centered and creativity-focused spaces to support migrants along their journey to have a little piece of home. The idea is: [migrants have] gone through all of these experiences, all of this work, all of this trauma, and for them to be able to land somewhere safe to decide what’s going to happen next, is an essential service. That’s what Alight is really doing, centering the stories of the migrants and saying, “What do you need in this space?” in that very Burning Man sort of way. And then also having art and creativity be a centerpoint of the space.
Thematically, how did the collaboration with Ronald Rael and Alight come together with BWB?
Breedlove: As Burners Without Borders, we just found so much alignment with this project. A teammate of ours, Chef Kai Schoenhals, he’s a chef and filmmaker, had stayed connected with Ronald through the original Border Feast concept and also because Ronald had spoken at our BWB spring summit. Ronald had a vision of building an horno, this mud oven, which is a communal functional piece of art where people can cook, bake bread, and share meals on the border.
The horno is the original oven of this land. You can find it down to Argentina, all the way up to Arizona, all the way over to Cuba. It’s made from the mud of the earth, so it’s very rooted in earth and place. It doesn’t matter where you are from on your migration journey, the horno is something you might recognize, even if your culture does it just a little bit differently.
Kai wanted to make a film and an experience around the making of this horno. We ended up enrolling our friend and Burner Lina Plioplyte, she’s an amazing director and filmmaker. So she came down to direct the film and we needed another shooter. We reached out to the Mexican Burning Man community, and they connected us with this wonderful director of photography named Alejandro Mendivil, who was already in Mexico. He came up and they shot this film.
Watch the Pedacito de la Tierra trailer:
Pedacito de la Tierra, on February 6, 2020, is the virtual premiere of the film you co-created. How will you bring a global community together virtually?
Breedlove: We decided to take everything BWB has learned during 2020 in the time of COVID about doing virtual events and bringing people together in virtual experiments. And that’s what this event is on February 6th — it is a 90-minute event, and it has three acts, which are called Hands, Heart, Head.
The first 30 minutes is called Hands. It’s about us physically doing something together. We have a food educator and food activist (and Burner) Charles Michel joining us. He’s putting together a 30-minute experience around the theme of “Bread and…”, connecting with chefs highlighting dishes throughout the Americas. We’ll get into it and talk about food. Why is food part of what roots us into being humans and being in place and in community?
The next 30 minutes is called Heart. It’s about sitting together and eating the food we just made, while watching the world premiere of the film in this venue. And that’s going to root us into the stories of the people in the Casa, the story of the people running the Casa, and also of Ronald building this piece in a collaborative fashion with everybody there.
The last 30 minutes is called Head. It’s going to be a conversation and panel where we talk to the creators of the project and have conversations about what home and belonging really means. We’ll ask: what does belonging mean, and why is creativity an essential part of making a difference in the world? We also want to help people intellectually understand the work that Alight is doing, and the transformative impact that supporting creative infrastructure can have for the people who stay at Casa de la Misericordia, or other folks who are in a migration process.
And of course, we’re gonna add music and interactivity to wrap the whole event together.
How does the journey of creating ‘Pedacito de la Tierra’ tie with the missions of Burners Without Borders and Burning Man Project?
Breedlove: For me, what’s awesome about this is that we’re not trying to create a new project, but rather looking at people doing really great work in the world and figuring out what skills our community has to enhance and enliven that experience. It’s bringing in the chefs and the artists and the musicians and this recipe book, and really just saying, “These are the gifts that our community has to offer,” and virtually making something that feels just as good and just as empathetic as it would be going down to the Casa.
The residents at the Casa are going to be the guests of honor. They’re going to be there with us, eating around their table with the horno that the whole film is about. And so they’re the stars of the show.
We’re trying to support creativity and community everywhere in the world, particularly in the places that are experiencing any sort of “disaster”, that’s what our mission is. There’s so much in the power of relationship. There are so many little relationships that have come into this moment. What’s exciting to me is the Burning Man community creating relationships with people on a migration journey. I’m so curious to see what happens with these relationships afterwards. And whether we will be able to do even more interesting things.
And then I go back to the Burning Man Project vision statement, which is: “Burning Man Project will bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community, and civic engagement.” When I think about that vision statement, that’s when this whole project just makes sense to me.
Header image courtesy of Alight