Food at Home

Melody Nangle talks about food and fusion of identity

Melody Nangle was born in Flushing, New York, to parents who were immigrants from Caribbean islands. She grew up in a multigenerational household, surrounded by cultural foods at home. “As a teenager, I was like, c’mon!  I just want McDonalds for a change!” But once Melody moved to college, she developed the love and appreciation for her native Caribbean foods. 

Melody’s mother is from Jamaica, while the paternal side of her family hails from Trinidad. The couple moved to the United States in 1970s for Melody’s mother to attend nursing school in America. They lived in Queens, New York, in “an insulated community” of immigrants. “They really had to carve their own path, with this information that they had, with this very idealistic view of what life was gonna be like in America and then the shocking reality of the fact that it’s really tough once you get here,” said Melody, while commenting on her parents’ early time in their adopted homeland. 

In that “insulated community” home cooking was the norm, that dismissed the need of purchasing “American foods” from restaurants. Food choices made Melody a bit of an outcast in the African American community, as well. “As a Black American, it was found to be very funny when I got to high school that I had not had fried chicken,” said Melody who was not considered “Black enough” by her peers because of dietary preferences. 

Over the years, Melody has found belonging as a Black woman in America in unique ways by converging the Caribbean and American parts of her identity. Food has allowed her to express this identity by creating room for fusion. Melody gives the example of Juneteenth celebration  which is marked by red foods and drinks. “I do celebrate Juneteenth with my family but I infuse my Caribbean -American culture as well, so I serve instead of Strawberry Soda which is a tradition that started in Texas, I serve Sorrel, which is made out of hibiscus flower and that is a tradition we use in the Caribbean.” 

For Melody, food is a medium of expression. At the age of 14, she decided to stop eating meat. “It was especially challenging when I became a vegetarian, because my parents, my whole entire family was like, why wouldn’t you eat meat?” said Melody as she explained the relationship that many immigrant families have with food in America. In her Caribbean household, “meat was a sign of success and wealth” and, her family was “offended” that Melody decided to exclude it from her diet. Check out the video in which Melody talks about some of her favorite Caribbean foods and growing up in an immigrant family in America. 

A nurse practitioner by profession, Melody’s current work as the Medical Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians is informed by her personal experience of growing up as part of a first-generation American family. It impacts the way she works and deals with other immigrants. 

Meet Melody in-person and hear the story of growing up in a vibrant food culture on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at Mera Kitchen Collective in Baltimore, MD. Tickets and details at:

Written and Produced by Saima Adil Sitwat 

Funding provided by Maryland State Arts Council 

Published by Saima Adil Sitwat

Writer, Speaker, Educator

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