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