A chile-marinated nopal steak, with black bean puree and plantains, a dish that may be available at Rebel Mariposa's pop-up restaurant on July 18. Courtesy photo.
Rebecca Lopez, a.k.a. Rebel Mariposa, owner of Rebel Eats. Courtesy photo.

Rebel Mariposa knew two things just a few weeks ago: she wanted to host a pop-up vegan dinner this summer, and she wanted to volunteer with Central American refugees over the Fourth of July weekend. Little did she know that these seemingly unrelated events would come together this Friday.

Mariposa runs Rebel Eats, a catering collective based on vegan and sometimes raw food. Recently, she made plans for the first ever vegan pop-up restaurant in San Antonio with the help of chef Nadia Casaperalta and artist Beto DeLeon. She soon discovered that the pop-up could benefit a good cause.

The pop-up restaurant, a fairly new concept, began as a way for chefs and diners alike to break out of culinary norms. Oftentimes invite-only, a pop-up’s mobile nature allows it to happen in a variety of places, from private homes to warehouses and even open fields.

“People were getting outside of the restaurant scene and doing these dinners in new places,” Mariposa said, adding that pop-up restaurants introduce patrons to different foods, new chefs, and even opportunities to donate to charity.

A chile-marinated nopal steak, with black bean puree and plantains, a dish that may be available at Rebel Mariposa's pop-up restaurant on July 18. Courtesy photo.
A chile-marinated nopal steak, with black bean puree and plantains, a vegan dish prepared by Nadia Casaperalta. Courtesy photo.

On the Fourth of July, she found the missing ingredient to her pop-up idea when a friend in McAllen wrote about the growing number of refugees being detained at the Texas-Mexico border, and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s search for volunteers.

“What better way to spend my weekend?” Mariposa said, recognizing that volunteer efforts are often short-staffed on weekends.

She petitioned friends for donations, and soon set off to the border with a car full of donations and a pocket full of money, which she used to buy items the refugees needed.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by how many people want to help,” she said.

What did refugees need most? Clothing and shoes for children, who make up an increasingly larger percentage of the refugee population at the border.

According to the Women’s Refugee Commission, the U.S. has seen a rising number of young refugees fleeing Central American poverty, violence, and unemployment. As many as 90,000 minor refugees could arrive in the U.S. this year.

This came as no surprise to Mariposa, who traveled to Guatemala in 2006 to visit a friend working with the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA). The network of volunteers trains members to support and protect Guatemalan citizens giving testimony against Efraín Ríos Montt, whose dictatorship led to widespread violence and indigenous peasant massacres in the 1980s.

The mass migration is a side effect of a long history of violence, dictatorship, the after-effects of U.S. interventionism, and corporate abuses from companies like Chiquita, Mariposa said.

“They came here not because they wanted to, but because they had to,” she said.

While Mariposa worked with Catholic Charities during her mot recent visit to the border, she will be volunteering on her own this time around. Her plans are similar to her previous trip. She will buy the essential items the refugees need the most.

The reservation-only dinner will feature a four-course vegan meal at a private residence in Southtown, with room for 40 patrons.

“It’s not about me and my food – it’s gonna be something bigger than that,” Mariposa said.

Reservations can be made by email or by calling 619-886-2594.

*Featured/top image: Rebel Mariposa, chef for the Friday, July 18 pop-up restaurant. Courtesy photo.

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Editor and writer Adrian Omar Ramirez is a recent graduate of Texas State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he was a news reporter at the University Star. A native to Abilene,...