Vamos a armar una caja
(The sazones isle on the Dominican bodega of Quisqueya on Broad Street, Providence, RI)
Do you know that feeling when one food item becomes a staple in your diet, and you are not even sure why you eat it for the first time?
Growing up in a translational household in the Dominican Republic, my family members will be gone for months at the time for visits to the United States. Many of them have life and grow up in Nueva Yol, not actual New York, but a Dominican expression to signify any geographical area in the states.
My grandparents and relatives will send boxes or bring food on their suitcases from the states, a curious mix of brands and products for consumption in the Dominican Republic. Every item will be ardently tracked down and storage for months even until the day to armar la maleta o la caja (prepare the box or the suitcase) will arrive. Most items purchased at BJ’s, Price Rite, and other supermarkets or bodegas, will make assembling the caja a triathlon.
Some of the items were/are:
Tang Powder Drink Mix Lipton Ice Tea Wesson Canola Oil Cafe Bustelo Ortega Taco Seasoning Packs (Sazoncito) Ortega Taco Salsa Planters Cashews Fruit Loops Cereal Goya Achiote and Culantro Seasoning (Sazon) Maggi Chicken Flavor Bouillon Salt Domino Sugar Badia Nutmeg Pasta(Spaghetti, Elbows, Rigatoni) Goya Tomato Sauce Goya Tomato Paste Bags of Dried Black Beans Goya Green Pigeon Peas (Guandules) Nestle Nesquik Chocolate Goya Adobo Seasoning Goya Pitted Manzanilla Olives with Pimentos Bags of Rice ( usually Canilla or Carolina, or another brand that can provide the whitest yield)
Even after no longer living in the Dominican Republic, we still send some of the products to our relatives in the Dominican Republic. My Mama claims that if we're ever to move back to the Dominican Republic, she will have to take some of this products with her as well. Uno se ha acostumbrado, We have become used to them. My grandma argues she started sending these products to her house in the Dominican Republic because she will probably be saving money on groceries and cooking gas in the Dominican Republic, making everything mas facil, more easy for her. Once again, the imperialistic American food manufacturing industry has made convenience a marketing tool to take over foodways around the globe.
These products are not Dominican; they had become part of the Dominican and the Dominican-American foodways in the states as well as in the island. I will visit relatives in the countryside or individuals without access to international travel or without the economic means to afford some of these american brand products available in the country. I came to understand how these products were corrupting a more traditional Dominican food culture and leaving space for transnational and American influence in my family's kitchen and much more in the Dominican Republic.
Many of the products that my family will send over or bring with them were already available in the Dominican supermercados (supermarkets), colmados (corner stores) and almacenes (bulk quantity small businesses).
You will see many of these products targeted to kids and ama de casas (housewives). Mini package of fruit loops for sale at 5 pesos, tang orange packages for 10 pesos or entire cereal box for 200 pesos. The problem was that mostly at supermarkets these products would be highly taxed because they were foreign goods.
In the book, The Dominican Americans by Silvio Torres-Saillant and Ramona Hernandez shows already that products such as Saran Wrap, Blue Bonnet Margarine, Velveeta Cheese, Kelloggs Cereals, Del Monte Corn, and Mazola Oil among others were the most significant amount of imports from the United States to the Dominican market in the 1990's.
This cross-pollination and exchange of food and food ways it is usual in transnational settings, but I can't help to think about what was forgotten. Lost as well as forgotten will be the things that market forces and globalization are making Dominicans and many others forget about their own food culture. Ask what products do I sent/bring back home? What am I replacing?