As I was peeling a platano this week, I was reminded of the many times Mami told me to learn how to do so properly. It was one of her many instructions, along with "wash your panties by hand every time you shower" and "bathe at least twice a day.“ Las mujeres siempre tienen que estar limpia por si acaso.
"What if one day you are rushed to the hospital and you’re not showered”? Mami would say. How a hospital visit and showering are correlated I would never know. I’m assuming our “cucas” should be fresh in the event a doctor has to go in there. "Be sure to make your bed as soon as you wake and if you stay the night at a man’s house be sure to not sleep in."
"You must help with cooking and washing the dishes." You never want his Mother to say que “eres una vaga que ni fregar sabes”. Of Mami's to-do list, making the bed and doing the dishes I got down. The cooking? Not so much. I know how to cook basic meals.
Yo me se defender en la cocina but if my husband-to-be is expecting a sancocho or a chivo, se jodio. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to the kitchen to learn the art of making sancocho when Mami’s making it. You know how tedious and time consuming it is to make a sancocho? You know how many platanos, yucas, and papas you have to peel? How much meat you have to season and sofreir? Ten minutes into the lesson I’ve mentally checked out. Eleven minutes in, I’ve officially checked out of the kitchen.
I was taught to be organized and clean. Not to be a slave in the kitchen. For most of my life I didn’t have to worry about learning to cook. My mother didn’t make me learn because my main priorities growing up were school and extra-curricular activities. I’ve been feeding my soul since I was little and Mami never took away privileges from me. I know that my Dominican counterparts on the island are taught to throw down in the kitchen from as a little as five years old. In the U.S., however, unless your Mother is a working mom, there was no need to learn to defrizar la carne or caminar la comida en lo que Mami llega a la casa. My little brother learned to fry an egg at 8 years old (I was 10). I was ashamed once when I realized that he knew and I didn’t. So, I learned how to fry an egg and cook other simple meals. When I got older, I learned how to cook "locrio de maiz“ aka "la comida de los cüeros." I’m assuming it got its name because it’s easy, fast, and cheap to make. I learned because Mami would say “Aprende porque yo no te voy a durar para toda la vida”.
When I realized I was going to marry a pure-bred Dominican man I became a little nervous every time I contemplated my skills in the kitchen. I feared my in-laws would deem me inadequate or not worthy enough for their baby boy because I didn’t know how to cook meals like rabo or sancocho. What would I feed this man once we were married? I can’t make him locrio every day, I thought. I also worried that he wouldn’t consider me marriage material because my cooking skills paled in comparison to his former pure-bred Dominican girlfriends. The truth is, that Dominican-American women of my generation are far too independent or academically ambitious to slave in a kitchen all day so as to please a man or la suegra for that matter.
I am a full-time employee and mother. The last thing I want to worry about is cooking a Thanksgiving-like feast daily like our Grandmother’s did for their husbands. So yes, aprender a cocinar is a good thing but if your lifestyle doesn’t allow it "ay que comer lo que aparezca. Y al que no le guste que se vaya a freir tusa" as our relatives would say. My husband is from el cibao. He could peel a perfect platano with a butter knife and eyes closed. Peeling a platano is an art in itself. I, however, can not peel a decent platano if it killed me. Mines are choppy and full of black streaks. I admit I’m not about that life. Cooking is not my forte and for many years I beat myself up about it and oftentimes I catch myself doing it still.
I’ve been privileged and spoiled I think. I’ve been able to come and go as I pleased all of my life. I know this isn't common among children of Dominican mothers but my mother didn’t force me to do much but help out with dishes and keep the home tidy. I didn’t have to worry about doing laundry or cooking for the entire family. I was allowed to stay in my room and do homework or read or watch tv. My in-laws never made me feel guilty for not growing up with that old-school Dominican mentality, where a child is not allowed to be idle or where one has to be constantly haciendo oficios.
My husband loves the kitchen. He enjoys experimenting with making dishes he loves, who am I stop him? He can feed himself without me having to do it. He never makes me feel any type of way for not cooking every day, for not serving his food as we’re expected to do as Dominican women. In fact, my husband doesn’t even like it when I serve him. When family’s around, I ask him, “Moy, te sirvo la comida”. I already know the answer. It’s “No”. I ask regardless, so others see that not every Dominican man wants to be served hand and foot. That most times he prefers to cook, clean, wash dishes, and do laundry for us. That out of the kindness of his heart he loves to serve us. This doesn’t make him weak or less than. On the contrary, this makes him mature, modern, and sexy as hell. He understands I am not and will never be a typical Dominican woman and so he worships me because of it.
Learning to peel a platano was a good lesson to learn, in my case completely unnecessary. Luckily enough, my husband knows how to peel it much better than I, it wasn't a requirement to be worthy of marriage. He put a ring on it anyway.
Lisa Gil-Ventura is a Washington Heights native, born to Dominican parents who migrated in the early 1980's. Lisa is a poet who's been documenting her life stories in diaries and journals since the age of 9. Lisa is a happily married, mother of two boys, who is returning to her craft after a long hiatus. Her passions include reading, writing, and practicing yoga. IG @devalish11