Internationally renowned chef José Andrés declared “I am an immigrant” in front of an audience of hundreds at a black-tie event in South Florida.
The high-profile restaurateur was the man of the night as the annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival held a dinner with other top chefs in his honor Saturday, according to The Miami Herald.
Andrés made a moving plea for all hardworking immigrants ― regardless of status ― at the auction dinner, which raised money for Florida International University’s hospitality school. During the speech, he took off his chef coat to reveal a T-shirt that read “I Am An Immigrant.”
“Many of those immigrants are undocumented and that unfortunately, yes, many of them came crossing the frontier or they overstayed their visa,” the Spanish-born chef said in his speech, which The Miami Herald posted on Facebook. “But they are working every day with the same pride as you and I, documented or not; working hard every day with a smile, sometimes underpaid, sometimes without health insurance, sometimes under hardships, working 12, 14 hours under the hot sun ― but working because they are proud to be part of the system.”
In a reference to President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, Andrés said he does believe in building certain types of walls.
“We need to build a very big wall, the biggest wall ... we need to be building walls to build communities, to build schools, to build hospitals, to build community centers, soup kitchens, to build an America we all believe in,” Andrés said as the crowd applauded.
Andrés owns the Think Food Group, the company behind his restaurants in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and Puerto Rico. The chef made headlines last year after Trump sued him for backing out of plans to open a restaurant in a Trump hotel.
As an activist for the immigrant community, Andrés showed solidarity by closing all five of his D.C.-area restaurants on Feb. 16 for a national strike dubbed “A Day Without Immigrants,” and rallied other restaurateurs to do the same.
In his speech at the South Florida event, Andrés told the audience that “we are all immigrants” and that only united can the country succeed.
“The American dream of the 21st century is to be an America of inclusion not of exclusion,” he said. “And we need to work hard to provide the same that we want to provide for us, to the other people that are left behind. So, I am an immigrant and I am proud of American immigrants. I am José Andrés and together, with a message of inclusion, we can keep moving this amazing country forward.”