An Ode to my Dulce De Leche Sisters
Tu quieres café? She asked, as I entered her home. Si, mami, I naturally responded. Tu!I know, I know you like mi coffee!! She cheerfully expressed in her Dominican accent. She greeted me with a warm hug and kiss on both cheeks. Each time I walked into her home reminds me of my childhood in Brooklyn, NY. Unlike the other homes I have entered, her living room walls are not adorned with communion pictures of her children dressed in all white because she is not Catholic. The aroma coming from her Cocina began to overwhelmed my senses; causing my belly to dance. I inhaled and lightly whispered Mofongo. It’s a native dish from Dominican Republic. Tu, hambre mami? She asked me as she filled the pot with water to make my coffee. No, mami, Yo comi at home, I replied in my Spanglish. I had to decline her offer. I could never eat one plate pero no, plus, I have to watch my figure. Each time I left her apartment, I put on ten pounds. She pulled out the ground meat, Pico de picadilllo and other ingredients needed to teach me how to make my childhood favorite dish, called Empanada. Are you ready mami? Si, I said with enthusiasm. I was ready for another lesson from my next door neighbor, mi Amiga, mi familia, and whom I call my dulce de leche sister. It will be another lesson in my three dimensional experience in the world of sisterhood.
I grew up in heart of Brooklyn, NY in the 1980’s. Hip hop music bleared from the boom box, kids perfecting their break dancing and girls playing double dutch in the school yard. My elementary school was a melting pot. The concept and understanding of race and culture was foreign to me at that time. My grandmother, a devout Catholic taught me to kneel and pray believed everyone was God children. I learned from an early age I was a different black child. I was not African American. I was excluded from the clicks in elementary school. I became shy and quiet until I met my best friend, Melissa Rodriguez. She was different too. She had curly hair similar to my own and a few shades lighter. She said she was Puerto Rican. I was confused because she did not look like Gonzalez or Rodriguez. Yet, She stood up straight and projected her voice and proudly said, I am a Puerto RRRRRiqueña.. Instantly, I knew I wanted to feel internally what she expressed externally. I made her repeat the word over and over again. The more she repeated her R’s, the more it began to sound like a musical note. We spent our lunch time together for the rest of our school years in elementary learning how to roll my R’s. On that day we became friends, my first lesson of sisterhood. Be proud of who you are.
At the age of thirteen, my rites of passage into womanhood were taught by new friend Audriana’s mother. At that time, I moved to a large predominately Latino demographic area in Queens NY. Audriana was a shade darker than Melissa. I knew she was a Latina but did not know that there were different subcultures of being Latina until I met her mother. Audriana’s mother was a different Latina. She was a beauty. I was awe struck upon our introduction. She was black. She was of a darker hue than me. A dark, black, beautiful, curvy woman with features I had never seen at that time. I was mesmerized. I noticed her Spanish was different. So I asked her “Why is your Spanish different”? She said “I no speak Spanish, I am Brazilian”. I speak Portuguese. She went on to tell me Latinas come in all shades. She would teach me the forbidden dance of Brazil, a dance which altered my walk from a tomboy to a woman. The second lesson, I learned was to love myself, and my body no matter the size.
In high school, I was introduced to my next dulce de leche sister, Jasmine. Jasmine taught me how to be feminine from the outside. She patiently taught me how to apply makeup, put on red lipstick and how to dance Salsa. She went home many nights limping after our home dance sessions. Later in life, I went to many Salsa night clubs displaying my feminine side and sexy dance moves that would lure many men to want to dance with me. Till this day, I love the music of Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Ruben Blades, Marc Anthony and anything Cuban. My body naturally moves to the music Tito Puente called Son.
The day I entered mother hood was no different than when I began my rites of passage. I had my Dulce de Leche sisters at my side. Upon the arrival of my son, my sister handed me a box with charm trinket Dominicans refer as “A se b ache” It is a black fist with a small red ball. She had it blessed. She placed the bracelet on my infant son’s wrist. She said,” It will protect him.” My son first solid food was arroz y habichuela (peas and rice) cooked with love from his Guatemalan caretaker, her hijito. She would say to him “dame beso” and he would laugh and run to her and place his small hands on her face and plant a big wet kiss smack on her mouth. They both would laugh as she planted more motherly kisses on her hijito. El hijito moved easily between his two worlds. He too became an honorary Latino.
Eight years ago, I became seriously ill and my Dulce de Leche sisters along with my other honorary sisters gathered around me and showered me with love and support at my bedside. According to Webster’s Dictionary, sisterhood is defined as: the close relationship among women based on shared experiences, concerns, etc. It is obvious the word was defined by a male because in my experience and journey as a woman, sisterhood should be redefined by a woman. It deserves a broader definition. The truth for me is that sisterhood is an open door Fraternity for all women regardless of color, shapes, sizes, culture because my Dulce de leche sisters taught me that lesson. The foundation of this fraternity is simply one word…love.
© Sharon Shaw 2016
NYC based poet, writer, and mother
This series is made possible thru sponsorship by Capicu Cultural Showcase.
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