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1 Stirring the Sancocho Dominicanness, Race, and Mixture in Historical Context The history of sancocho, also Spanish for “pig slop,” is all about raising the least to the most, the ordinary to the extraordinary . . . Call us alchemists. The African Diaspora’s always done what it could with what it’s had, transmuting base metals into gold. We’ve turned table scraps into feasts, curd into cheese, sour grapes into wine, lemons into lemonade. It’s hard work, disarming bombs. And we season our efforts well. It’s how Dominicans have alchemized into a national dish the hodge-podge stew . . . Proudly we hold up humble bowls, as an expression of identity, abundance, celebration, and communion. Nelly Rosario, “Feasting on Sancocho before Night Falls: A Meditation” A bleaker, commonly held belief about sancocho’s origins points to the days of slavery, during which there was surely little difference between the table scraps thrown to the troughs and what was tossed aside to the slave quarters. Later, sancocho came to refer to the “plantation stew” cobbled together by folks from neighbors’ crops . . . Today, sancocho has ascended as the revered national dish of the Dominican Republic. It’s served as tourist fare or on special occasions or on Sundays or during inclement weather (Rosario 2007, 263–64). Perhaps it is ironic that the origin of the national dish of the Dominican Republic has its roots in slavery and an African past. Ironic because the discourse surrounding race and identity seldom references Africa—or being of African descent—since Dominican racial identity, as constructed, privileges mixture and emphasizes European and indigenous pasts. As a metaphor, however, sancocho captures this sense of mixture as the national dish of the Dominican Republic. As Rosario points out, sancocho is similar to a stew filled with various ingredients—chicken, pork, and other meat, potatoes, yucca, plantains, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and corn on the cob in a flavorful chicken stock—and a culinary favorite for family gatherings and celebrations . In no particular order, and not suggesting that all parts are equal, these various ingredients represent diversity—ethnic, color, gender, class, and regional—and the stock represents the common “stock” of Dominicanness or the sense of being Dominican in racial and national terms. Stirring the Sancocho: Dominicanness, Race, and Mixture in Historical Context 15 I remember the first time I had sancocho. It was in the fall of 1998, and my husband, David, our oldest daughter, Asha, and I were in the campo (countryside) in Dajabón near the Dominican-Haitian border with a friend we came to refer to as Tía (Aunt) Nancy and her family. It was prepared the traditional way in an outdoor kitchen in a large black pot over an open fire. Tía Nancy’s niece started to stir the sancocho, but it didn’t stir easily. The tubers and other ingredients created a resistance in the pot that was symbolic of the resistance of the enslaved people who had created the dish itself. After the sancocho simmered, we all sat down to enjoy a bowl. Today, as the national dish, sancocho represents resultant mixture from generations of intermarriage and “marrying up” practices.1 Sancocho is among other stews in the African diaspora that have been used to capture the sense of racial mixedness. For example, in the film Black Is . . . Black Ain’t (1995), Marlon Riggs used gumbo to describe skin color variation and other differences among African Americans, while awara soup symbolized creolization in French Guyana in the film Awara Soup by Marie Clémence Blanc-Paes in 1995. The idea of sancocho is represented by the use of indio (a skin color category representing mixture) on the cédula (the national identification card) and mestizo on the census (in previous years). In this chapter, using sancocho as a metaphor, I explore how racial and national identities were constructed and articulated in the Dominican Republic without a direct reference to an African past, both before and during the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, hinting at the shift that has taken place in recent years to reclaim that past. This chapter gives a brief historical overview contextualizing Dominican racial socialization and illustrating how the African past was, in effect, buried as European immigrants entered the country and as Haitian and other Caribbean immigration to the Dominican Republic was curbed by immigration policies at the hand of Trujillo . Thus, this chapter seeks to make visible the ways in which Dominican blackness was constructed, buried, and...


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