So Not Dominican: My Struggle With A Dominican/American Upbringing

Green Platanos

Sujeiry's Fight With Platanos

I feel very non-Dominican when pelando platanos. Instead of breaking through the green, tough skin with a sharp blade, I run the platano under steaming water to soften its cascara. Once ready (usually when the skin has turned dark brown), I begin to peel. I slice off both ends. I cut three lines, from top to bottom, and then pry off the hard skin. I use my fingernails ever so carefully; afraid I may chip a nail. I sweat, wiping the perspiration off my brow as if working in a sugarcane field. I huff and puff and sigh when, minutes later, I have to scrape off bits and pieces of skin from the platano.

Mami, on the other hand, takes three platanos from the refrigerator, chops off their ends, and in 3 minutes flat (1 minute per platano) the platanos are freed and ready to sancochar or fry. I watch in amazement, and am a little envious that she can be so domestic without struggle. Silently, I blame her for not teaching me skills that would deem me a suitable Dominican wife.

Other things I have yet to master are sweeping and mopping daily, killing rodents and insects without flinching (or at all), and nurturing my man (when I have one) as if he were attached to my teta. I’m not messy by any means. In my bedroom and office, everything has its place. But, instead of picking up my television to dust underneath, I dust around it. Killing a cockroach? I usually scream for Mami. She comes running with a chancleta, ready to whack the life out of the water bug that has terrified her youngest daughter. As for pampering men, I do love taking care of my significant other. But don’t expect me to give you the last Corona or chicken wing!

Aside from my lack of Dominican skills in the kitchen, I also don’t put Vivaporu up my nostrils, eat platanos for lunch every day, listen to bachata, shop at Armani Exchange, or cleanse my pepa™ with Lemisol. I once tried Lemisol, feeling it would be very non-Dominican of me not to. A flaming pepa™ was the result of washing myself with the green liquid. My pepa™ still flinches at the sight of green.

So yes, I can be very non-Dominican. Though my hair is curly and my Spanish tongue is rapid and sometimes fiery, though I live in Washington Heights, the Little Quisqueya of upper Manhattan, and love fried Dominican cheese with tostones, I’ve merged my American nationality, Dominican upbringing, and prep school education to become a strong Latina with ideals, culture, traditional values, and, most of all, Pepa Power™. Still, I try to fill the role of “Dominican woman,” the role that Abuela, Mami, and all the women before them were raised to fill. This is why I continue pelando platanos. As Mami watches, shaking her head with disappointment and fighting the urge to take over, as she normally does, I run the platano under steaming water, slice off both ends, cut three lines, from top to bottom, and pry off the hard skin. Sure, I’m sweating, huffing and puffing, and containing my frustration. But when that platano is clean, when it is set free and its pale skin is exposed, I am satisfied.  Because this Dominicana never gives up, no matter how many pieces are left to scrape.

7 comments on “So Not Dominican: My Struggle With A Dominican/American Upbringing

  1. Sujeiry Gonzalez says:

    Wow! I guess I am not alone with a platano peeling inability lol. What can’t you cook? And yes, our mamis did set the standard high. It’s a lot of pressure, especially when with a Latino man. They expect us to be like their mamis!

  2. Sujeiry Gonzalez says:

    Interesting how you chose to embrace the kitchen because you’re mom didn’t know how to cook. Guess we always want to be the opposite of our moms! I’m sure you also chose to learn because you love food. I’m not such a foodie so I have only mastered a few things.

    Thanks for reading and commenting! I am happy you enjoy my stories. I love to entertainer and bring light to relatable topics, even if just in fun. Thanks again!

  3. Carla says:

    OMG I can totally relate! Except replace Dominican with Cuban. The whole cleaning thing I’ll never master but I’ll die trying. Our mamis set the standard so damn high =)

  4. Presley's Pantry says:

    I sincerely enjoy your stories. Thank you for sharing the platano peeling tips or lack of there of. I’m my mom’s only child, and I didn’t know how to wash laundry until I had my first and only child. On the flip side my mom doesn’t know how to cook and that’s all I cared about growing up…. getting in the kitchen and making things taste good.

  5. Sujeiry Gonzalez says:

    My mother definitely raised her kids differently than the way Dominican women are on the island. I didn’t have to do anything! Neither did my older sister or younger brother. She just wanted us to concentrate on school and succeeding professionally. Pero when I went away to college, I didn’t even know how to make rice or wash laundry! I was on the phone all the time, asking Mami for tips. But yes, you are right. Though my platano peeling skills are horrid, I do some things really well! I am a master pastelito maker lol. And I make a damn good lasagna.

    Lemisol? Bueno, my pepa™ could not take it. I felt like it was on fire! I just stick with soap and water :-)

  6. ElizTalks says:

    P.S. Lemisol… REALLY, its so refreshing!!!! lol

  7. ElizTalks says:

    It really is a battle sometimes to live up to the “Dominican woman” standards & still be Liberal American woman. I have to admit I shocked myself of how much of both I had when I got married & moved out. I was a spoiled baby of the house, the one that didn’t do much but watch everyone else do work. I made soup & that’s as far as I went in the kitchen. But one day I moved & out of no where, that woman, that Dominican one came out of me. From boiling bagged goya beans for 3 hours, to efficiently peeling perfectly clean platanos… I surprised myself & my mother too. Not sure where it came from but it came. I think for some its just something inside of them as most things in life. So as regular as peeling a platano may seem, it’s something you perfect with time yes, but it’s also something that some just do naturally. It’s not for everyone, so don’t beat yourself up for it. You perfect other things that others don’t.

    Everyone has there thing they wonder how do they do it?

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