Savoring freedom: How food plays a part in Juneteenth celebrations

As communities prepare to celebrate Juneteenth at events across the county this month, Black San Diegans share what foods they eat to honor the holiday

Growing up as part of the Cooper family in San Diego, celebrating Juneteenth Day was a huge part of 26-year-old Maliya Jones’ upbringing. 

Many of her non-Black friends sometimes questioned why she made a big deal about a holiday they had otherwise never heard of.

“They were like, 'That's crazy, because you always talk about Juneteenth, you always talk about your family,” Jones said. 

But for years before Juneteenth had been recognized as a holiday by the federal or California state government, Jones’ family had organized a large annual festival to celebrate the abolition of slavery.

It was more than 50 years ago when her grandparents, Sidney and Thelma Cooper, first started hosting Juneteenth celebrations in San Diego, initially as a small event among family and friends.

Sidney, who was lovingly known as the “Mayor of Imperial Avenue” had wanted to bring the tradition he celebrated at home in Oklahoma with him to San Diego to foster community connections. 

“Sidney Cooper brought awareness of Juneteenth to San Diego and pioneered celebrations decades before its federal recognition,” Jones said of her grandfather. “He fostered unity among the Southeast San Diego community by establishing internal and external relationships in the community.”

This is an excerpt from my newest food writing project, San Diego Tides & Tacos, which features diverse stories of San Diego chefs, farmers and food producers. 

Visit this article on Substack to finish reading this article on foods used in Juneteenth celebrations, which includes a list of events to be held throughout San Diego County this month.


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