For many local Turkish-Americans, El Paso’s Raindrop House signifies a place to gather with friends and visitors. A place where they can socialize, cook and eat together.
“We serve Turkish-Americans, but also introduce Turkish culture to our American friends,” says Sabri Agachan, director of the El Paso branch of the Raindrop Turkish House. “We open our doors and our hearts to every individual in El Paso.”
The local cultural center is part of the Raindrop Foundation, a non-profit, non-political organization whose stated mission is to “cultivate friendship and promote understanding of diverse cultures, the foundation says on its website.
“One of the most important goals of our organization is to bring people together from different backgrounds who may have different nationalities, religions, or ethnic groups,” Agachan says. “Because those differences are not the reason for fight or conflict, but … for peace, cooperation, and collaboration.”
Raindrop Turkish House was established in El Paso’s Gateway Business Center in 2006. Other Raindrop centers are in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and New Mexico.
In carrying out the foundation’s mission, the Raindrop Turkish House frequently has activities to educate and entertain both the Turkish and American communities. These include cooking classes, weekly Friday socials, biannual festivals, coffee nights, language classes, philanthropy efforts, and even intercultural trips to Turkey.
“We have a really good relationship with our American friends, and it’s an amazing thing because we have a lot of differentiation – the religions, customs, everything,” volunteer Hatice Solak says. “But we’ve still become good friends.”
With 81 percent of the city’s population categorized as Hispanic by the U.S. Census, El Paso lacks the cultural diversity found in many other large cities. To that end, the Raindrop Turkish House is working to further the community’s knowledge and understanding of other cultures.
El Paso’s Turkish population stands at approximately 200 people, Agachan estimates. While his native culture vastly differs from El Paso’s, Agachan thinks the two still have some things in common.
“In Turkish culture, the family bonds are very strong, similar to Hispanic culture, and are especially warm and friendly,” he says.
Melanie Bradley, an El Pasoan of just over five years, has participated in several cooking classes at the Raindrop Turkish House.
“I love Turkey, so when I first came to El Paso, I was looking to see if it had Turkish grocery stores because I love the food,” Bradley says. “Then I came across the Turkish House and saw they had cooking classes, and I was sold.”
Bradley, who has helped cook all sorts of Turkish delicacies, thinks the classes educate the community about not only Turkish food, but also its overall culture.
“It teaches you how to use different produce that you wouldn’t use on an every day basis,” she says. “I think they take pride in how they prepare their food, and I think that shows a lot about the culture itself.”
Although Turkey is a far ways from El Paso, the Raindrop Turkish House provides a taste of home to those who have relocated from their native country.
“We came here, and I’m really happy about it,” Solak says. “In Turkey, I only had a few close friends, but here I have a lot. We’re building really close friendships here.”