For over fifteen years, the immigrant youth that power United We Dream have disrupted the public’s expectations of what it means to be an immigrant. We have told a new story about who we are on our own terms, one that celebrates our inherent worth and our full selves: our accents, our hair, our skin color, our languages and more.
Right now, authentic stories and media about immigrant teens and young adults are few and far between. In the news, immigration policy has splintered and reduced our communities to our immigration status and the danger we face: DACA, TPS, DED, undocumented, recent arrivals, first generation Americans.
Taking a page from the playbook of web series pioneers like Issa Rae (Insecure) and Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez (Gentefied), we developed a new cook off competition show titled No Borders, Just Flavors! to showcase the wide range of brilliance and resilience found among the immigrant youth that make up our multi-racial, queer and trans community.
The four-episode series features young people with an immigrant identity from all over the country going head-to-head in a family recipe cook-off. Produced by United We Dream—the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the United States —No Borders, Just Flavors! unlocks the power of food to share immigrant stories of joy, pride, and connection that the media often overlooks.
the series was born out of a need to disrupt immigrant and youth of color’s passive consumption of harmful immigrant narratives and stereotypes on YouTube, an opportunity that we discovered through a research partnership with Harmony Labs to understand youth audiences’ consumption of immigrant narratives on the web. We also conducted a content test of original YouTube food content from our wheelhouse that featured immigration storylines to identify some narrative and technical elements that could aid with viewer retention. This test affirmed elements and new ideas proposed in a concept our youth members pitched to our in-house creative team during a listening session: a playful, competitive cook off.
A key ingredient for the development of the show was a diverse, multi-racial cast. Our members made one thing clear: immigrant youth want to be seen.
Spanning dishes from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and beyond, the show showcases how family recipes like Betsabe’s Cuban grandfather’s papas rellenas or Shruti’s panchmel dal can help us feel closer to each other as immigrants who all belong under one community, while validating and embracing our unique nationality, race and lived experiences.
In order to bring these stories to life, we needed immigrants at every level of production, both in front of and behind the cameras. Our team was composed entirely of filmmakers, designers and artists of color, with the majority of the team being immigrants, queer and trans / gender non-conforming.
We grounded ourselves in the principle that our series absolutely must incorporate immigrant storytelling and the celebration of our diverse cultures at every turn.
Throughout the entire R&D portion of the project, we held internal meetings with all departments where we brainstormed everything from show title, to number of episodes, to structure (whether or not we would name a winner, how we would break up the episodes, etc.) We hired stellar TikTok content creators who were foodies and chefs of color- and who our members watched and recognized - to serve as our special guests and as promoters of the show. Our immigrant creatives designed and built an original set in Houston, TX and we filmed over the course of six days with our cast.
One major challenge we faced was in regards to our audition process. This was our first time venturing into video auditions and casting for a web series, and we faced some trouble at the start in sourcing contestants due to initially limiting our scope to Texas residents for the ease of logistics and proximity to the Houston studio and our existing membership base. After the initial slump - about a month of searching - we opened our casting to folks across the country and grappled with streamlining a process to field over 600 submissions at various stages of completion. Ultimately we were able to wade through submissions to select a cast of youth who juggled schedules to attend the video shoot between work, college and culinary school.
We produced 4 episodes each with a run time of approximately 15 minutes. The cast and crew were multi-racial, multi-ethnic, queer, trans and proud! We successfully reached 12 million people and almost 200,000 YouTube views by the close of the marketing phase from April 10 - May 19, 2023. Our show was covered in 12 media publications and 4 re-prints, including NBC News, Remezcla and NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.
We engaged multiple immigrant storytellers via content on YouTube, Meta and TikTok, including:
We consider our show a success because of the wide reach and audience that has interacted with our values transformation, as well as uplifting contestant’s stories and agency as cultural change-makers.