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Agridulce

by Abril Peña

Mami warned me, half-jokingly, half-sincere, "You can bring home a boyfriend, and no me importa if he's moreno, or blanco or chino... but please, que no sea Dominicano." Despite the many years of hearing her complain about my father, it was the first time she acknowledged that Papi was a member of an infamous group with a bad reputation: Dominican Men™.

I hated going anywhere with Papi because he always had to stop and engage with someone he knew, whether it was one of his childhood friends from Santo Domingo passing him by on the street or his cousin's wife's sister who visited his bodega in the Lower East Side. It was unfathomable to me as a kid how one man could know so many people in a city overpopulated with strangers.

When Papi joined my high school's Parent Teacher Association, I saw him scribbling something in a composition notebook after the first meeting; "Jose, father of Kevin, Ecuadorian. Maria, daughter, is Stephanie, Colombian." He had written down the names of each parent he had met and details about them so he would remember to ask next time he saw them.

When Papi would take my brothers and me out to eat—a tradition we established at a time when we only wanted to dine on chicken nuggets and pizza—we would beg him not to make small talk with the waiter out of fear of embarrassment. Still, no amount of pleading would stop his amiable nature. "Carlos! ¿De donde eres, Carlos? Ah, Peru, excelente." As we order our meals, my brother requests every vegetable—minus the fries—that comes with his burger be removed, and Papi, on cue, will tell Carlos, "and I'll take whatever he's not having!"

When I was young and intimidated by the world, Papi would tell me, "people don't bite." I couldn't decide whether he was brave to see the good in everyone or too naive to recognize sharp teeth. Papi's ability to turn strangers into friends was, at worst, terribly annoying and inconvenient to his introverted teenage daughter, but it was harmless. It wasn't until college that I discovered that Papi's charm was not just a quirk of his but a symptom of being a Dominican Man™. These men, who spoke fast and danced slow, were admired by women from afar, an admiration based on lust but lacking in trust.

I came from a Dominican family, surrounded by hermanos, primos, tios, and Papi. I hadn't realized growing up that they, like the men my friends would later become heartbroken over, were also Dominican Men™. It became a common trope in dating stories I heard in real life and online, "Dominican Men™ are cheaters! They play their girlfriends and wives like güiras and sweet-talk them into forgiveness." Stories of the creative (and sometimes funny) ways that women have caught their husbands cheating make rounds in Dominican families like fresh café de la greca — like how my grandmother found out that my grandfather had impregnated another woman while she was also pregnant with his child. She waited in the dark for him to get home with a machete in hand.


It's a challenging realization to come to that the man who frequented PTA meetings and bake sales was the same man who could cause women so much emotional damage—that a good father could simultaneously be a lousy husband in the way that a sour lemon could produce a sweet lemonade. Throughout my life, I saw how exhausted Mami was, carrying the heavy weight of resentment while having to raise the living remains of the most tumultuous relationship she's ever had—and yet, like cold lemonade on a hot day, she can’t resist letting out a laugh when Papi tells his ‘papi jokes.’

While some continue to fulfill the prophecy, many Dominican Men™ today try to defy the promiscuous reputation that precedes them. After watching their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers hurt the most influential women in their lives, a hurt that cascades onto their children, today’s Dominican Men™ decide to either continue embodying the stereotype or break the generational curse. I look at my brothers, who walk through their respective worlds with soft hearts and open arms and regain hope that they will rebrand this new generation of Dominican Men™—not as cheaters or charmers, but as multifaceted beings that have the capacity to be. Through them, and through the men in my family, I am reminded that Dominican Men™ can be gentle, can be loyal, can be nurturing, can be soft, can be gay, can be emotional, can be good husbands, and good fathers. Dominican Men™ can just be.


 

Abril Peña. Born and raised in Queens, New York, Abril Peña is a writer, a social impact professional, and the eldest daughter of her Dominican immigrant parents. She enjoys writing about her personal experiences as a first-generation New Yorker, navigating her career and relationships, and trying to understand her multifaceted identity as an Afro-Latina. Abril works in nonprofit and corporate spaces advocating for youth, education, racial and gender equity, and financial literacy.

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