Written by: Joiri Minaya
Originally published in Spanish on Acento.
To handle unpeeled mangoes, wear disposable gloves. Or better yet, have someone else clean and cut it for you!
Spanish is a very binary language, many words end in an A letter (having feminine associations) or an O, (having masculine associations). Some words exist in both versions.
The word for fruit in Spanish when used with it’s masculine ending, FRUTO, is used in a neutral, general, botanical sense, pointing to the fruit of any plant, whereas FRUTA, feminine, is usually used to refer to those fruits for human consumption.
“Exotic” fruits were so classified by people who thought of themselves as being in the center of the world, everything else being periphery and therefore places to be discovered, explored, exploited, dominated, and over which to fantasize.
The mango, originally from India and spread to the rest of the intertropical zones, is the epitome of the exotic fruit: sweet, juicy, with a heavenly taste and odor, a fruit from paradise.
These features are spilled equally over the landscapes and the people that host the Mangifera genus.
The funny thing is that even the natives of these areas advertise themselves as exotic, along with their surroundings and their products, even to this day.
This fruit, so treasured throughout history, especially in the history of a Europe and a North America who demand and absorb 80% of the international imports of tropical fruits produced in ex-colonial territories – was always available in the yards of my childhood and adolescence.
They did not come frozen, or in a can floating in a sugary liquid, nor did they come in a ziplock bag, peeled and sliced by the hands of immigrant women an sold at Union Square.
In its tonal range from reds and purples, yellows and oranges, we would pick them from the trees. Some would fall with black spots, others bitten by birds. We would find enough of them smooth, shiny and beautiful, just lying on the ground. Occasionally we would also pick a green one.
I don’t know what kind of mangoes they were, I wonder if they were any of the native variants, or if what we had in the backyard was one of the Edwards, Tommy Atkins, Kents, Haddens or some other variety created and trademarked in Florida in the 40’s.
Unlike beer bottles (and the asses that go along with them in many of their advertisements) the surface of mangoes does not transpire palatable droplets of water. It does exude a sticky sap from its point of attachment to the stem when this is cut, which, according to the English-speaking Internet is terribly irritating, although in my Spanish speaking upbringing I never heard of this fact.
Eating a mango was always a task carried out in the safety of my home. I’ve had enough unwanted obscenities said to me by simply existing as a woman in this world; by being late in the mornings trying to catch a train while also eating a banana as my only breakfast; when using any style of clothing; walking on the sidewalk; while crossing a street, etc – so it wouldn’t even occur to me to eat a whole mango in public.
Women in my family, however, have always enjoyed eating whole mangoes, sucking its big seed until leaving it all dry and hairless during visits to the countryside, going the river, or just on backyard gatherings.
I never really learned these skills. The last time I tried to eat a whole mango this way must have been more than a decade ago, and I found a large, ugly and black worm halfway through the fruit. I didn’t eat mangoes for a long time, and when I started to eat them again, I had to scrutinize them very well, peel them and cut them in slices.
Joiri Minaya is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work deals with identity, otherness, self-consciousness and displacement. Her work navigates binaries in search of in-betweenness, investigating the female body within constructions of identity, social space and hierarchies. Born in New York, U.S, she grew up in the Dominican Republic. Minaya graduated from the Escuela Nacional de Artes Visuales in Santo Domingo in 2009, the Altos de Chavón School of Design in 2011 and Parsons the New School for Design in 2013. She has been a resident artist at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Guttenberg Arts and Smack Mellon, and has participated in the Bronx Museum’s AIM Program and the NYFA Mentoring Program for Immigrant Artists. Minaya has exhibited across the Dominican Republic, New York and New Jersey, and her work is in the collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno in Santo Domingo and the Centro León Jiménes in Santiago, Dominican Republic.