Located in the enclave of Little Ethiopia, Flavors From Afar is a restaurant that defies categorization, with a menu that changes monthly to feature dishes from the homeland of a refugee or immigrant chef.
It’s the vision of Meymuna Hussein-Cattan. Her parents fled Ethiopia in the 1970s and met in a refugee camp in Somalia, where she was born. Her family resettled in California’s Orange County when she was 3, and she knows firsthand how meaningful native dishes can be.
“For all refugees — and immigrants — food is a sense of self preservation,” she said. “As long as you preserve those family recipes, it really instills a sense of rootedness (and) feeling connected to your cultural upbringing.”
In many ways, Hussein-Cattan achieved the American dream. She was the first woman in her family to graduate from high school, the first person to earn a master’s degree and she is now a United States citizen. But much of her life was colored by her experience as a refugee.
“There was a lot of beauty, but at the same time, there were shadows — anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim,” she said. “From a very young age I was aware that I’m different. So, being able to connect with anyone was … my superpower.”
For more than a decade, Hussein-Cattan has used her superpower to help newcomers to the US. She and her mother created the Tiyya Foundation
in 2010, which now provides free programming, resources, and support to more than 200 families of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers each year. Two years ago, she opened her restaurant to provide opportunities to immigrant chefs, celebrate their cultures and help fund her nonprofit.