Written by Sonia Tavarez
I asked my friend who came back from London about the plantain situation. I was a month away from my study abroad term in London and I was genuinely concerned about the plantain situation. Were there going to be plantains in London? If she said no, I was ready to pack some en la maleta. She said yes but didn’t seem confident in her answer. It was good enough for me so I left them at home. The problem was that when I got to Bloomsbury, the area where we lived in London, there were none. I asked around in the grocery stores and supermarkets, but the people who worked there gave me blank stares. They looked at me like they didn’t understand what I was saying.
“Do you have plantains, platanos, the cousins of bananas?”
Nada. Trying to find plantains was like trying to find a piece of home. My stomach was rejecting British food.
The culture shock was starting to kick my ass. I was experiencing a multiple culture clash: Dominican, American, and British. I was juggling three but feeling like I barely belonged to two. Even though I’m Dominican American, natives from the Dominican Republic call me white. Dominican Americans sometimes have a hard time accepting that I’m Dominican (shout out to all the quiet shy Dominicans), and I don’t think America thinks I’m American. When people in the United Kingdom or Europe asked me where I was from, I would say either the Dominican Republic or New York. What I should’ve said was “Soy una Dominican Yol” regardless of whether they didn’t know where the Dominican Republic was or if they didn’t understand me. I was used to saying Dominican because saying I’m from New York in America was never enough.
I hopped on a bus to Brixton, the Caribbean area in London, to go to a market to get the plantains. I went with my Jamaican friend and we were giddy from the moment we got on the bus to the moment we found them.
We were so giddy that we got off at the wrong stop.
“I’m gonna make so many things with these plantains,” I said. Did I mention that I can’t peel a platano let alone cook it?
“Are those plantains? Just kidding, they’re bananas,” he said.
We were dead lost from the Diaspora.
The Dominican diaspora wasn’t done with me; it was also dragging me with el pajón. I thought about bringing los rolos y el secador with me. I started researching portable hair dryers, like the bonnet that you attach the hair blower at the end. Ridiculous, right? Pero sin coro, I thought that shit was my Socorro. My curls were out and I believed I looked dreadful. I was a bruja without magic and resilience.
Every time I saw a latina/latino in either the United Kingdom or Europe I felt like I was reconnecting with a long lost family member. (My friend on the left and I am on the right)
One day I went to a Dominican hair salon in Brixton. I actually hate hair salons. The wait at the salon is too long and sometimes the lady forgets about me under the dryer because el bochinche esta tan bueno. This time I entered hopeful and not dreading it. When I entered, I told the lady in English that I wanted a wash and a blow out. I was mad at myself because I should have said it in Spanish, not English. I felt like I was trying to hide my mother tongue. I was quiet through the whole process until the rolos were taken off and the stylist was blow-drying my hair. Slowly she and her friend started to ask me questions and from there a coro initiated. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I know I had a smile on my face because of the connection. I didn’t have to explain anything or act more Dominican to be Dominican. I have social anxiety and sometimes I shut off but that’s just me adhering to some gringo shit.
I was recklessly connecting with my culture but trying to define my own identity as I went along. You hear things like: “I’m more Dominican than a platano.” Bueno, el platano can be transformed into many dishes, like Dominican people can be found with different personalities that aren’t only the life of the party. Every identity is different. When I came back from London, I felt like something was wrong with me because I wasn’t flying off the wall about my study abroad experience. I was grateful for the experience but I didn’t want to talk about it. London didn’t feel right and my heart hadn’t been feeling it since day one. A fuerza bruta trate de amarlo. Assimilation or forced love ain’t shit compared to the love you have for your gente.