Some Pupusas, a Party, and a Passion

By Cecilia Polanco

Image by Jacob McCalip

The universe has a way of putting you in the right place at the right time. Every door shut is a path that was not meant for you and every door open has been waiting for you.

One Saturday last fall, I found myself in Raleigh with my family, setting up a mobile stove to make Pupusas for guests at an event that was something about partying with a purpose.

I did not know much about the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation or about Jamie, but that day was the beginning of something — the beginning of a door creaking open.

Months after working with the Foundation through my food truck and catering company, So Good Pupusas, I learned about the Fellowship. I was eager to apply, although doubtful that I would be a good fit. It was while catering an event at Tarboro Brewing Company that Inez, whom I met catering for the Foundation last year, convinced me to apply and later wrote a recommendation letter for me.

Image by Jacob McCalip
Image by Jacob McCalip

Being a JKHF Fellow has shown me what it truly means to invest in people. Through Pupusas for Education, our non-profit partner for So Good Pupusas food truck, we provide last dollar scholarships for undocumented students pursuing higher education. Our business benefits our nonprofit and we give back in the form of scholarships because we also believe in investing in people. I love that the JKHF Fellowship is purposeful and intentional in what the Fellows do and why we do it. We spend half the week in curriculum learning about skills like grant writing or values-based leadership, and the other half with our project partners. One week we met with Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, Representative Grier Martin, and former Governor Jim Hunt — meetings which confirmed my ideas and intentions around serving in public office one day. Every day is different; every day is a new door opening where we learn about a new concept or meet a new person, which makes every day an exciting opportunity.

The JKHF’s investment in me enables me to keep doing the work that allows me to invest in others: in students and the community. Being a young, female entrepreneur of color post-undergrad has been risky, exhausting, and a whirlwind of learning. Thanks to the people I have met who support me and encourage me, the universe conspired for me to cross paths with this Foundation and this Fellowship. I feel full and rejuvenated because their investment in me has given me time, has connected me with amazing people, and has taught me so much that I can put back into So Good Pupusas and Pupusas for Education to pay these blessings forward.

During my time as a JKHF Fellow, I have concluded that serving in public office is my path to creating positive change and implementing policy that invests in people. Along with meeting Mayor McFarlane and Governor Hunt, I’ve also been working with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems on the Rooted In Community Conference happening this July. Rooted In Community convenes youth food initiatives from all over the country, and gives us a chance to celebrate local NC groups. I’ve learned that our youth are hungry for change. They are learning how they want to be empowered, and they are often creating change themselves. Representation mattered to me when I was young, and younger generations are still yearning to see themselves represented in positions that drive and advocate for change for their families and communities.

I did not have the confidence to choose the path of public office before being a JKHF Fellow and I thank the Foundation for creating a space for me to embrace who I am and my purpose. Having learned about Jamie and the life she led makes me deeply honored to be part of her legacy and very proud to be a JKHF Fellow. I will continue to work with youth, our communities, and issues of food justice and education equity to spark the change I wish to see.