Migrant seasonings : food practices, cultural memory, and narratives of 'home' among Dominican communities in New York City
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This dissertation examines politics and poetics of food, memory and ‘home’ among Dominican immigrants in New York City. Through a framework of ‘foodmaps’ it traces cultural histories of seven Dominican families from the gendered perspectives of the cooks in each household. Examining translocal food paths reveal the crucial role of migrant food relations in gendered production of home, place-making and community formations. ‘Migrant seasonings’ (the way immigrants season their foods and lives and the way they are ‘seasoned’ into new social relations) could be understood as contested sites of power negotiations, as strategic reclamation of ‘small measures of autonomy’, sociopolitical action, and historical visibility. Dominican foodmaps respond to culturally and historically specific ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ shared with other Afro-diasporic populations in the Americas. Food-place-memory becomes hence a continuum between geopolitical ‘seasonings’ in sending societies and new racializations in the US. Some findings of this project are: 1) food paid-unpaid labor are critical in negotiations of labor-time, places and social relations within households and in relation to the City and US state; 2) food is a key mediation for the way Dominican migrants learn to navigate and orient themselves in new environments; 3) cooking practices are inseparable from the narrative memories that give them meaning, constituting complex memory-work strategies, communicative and expressive means; 3) Food practices are crucial for the way cooks (especially women) claim value and autonomy for their life projects, produce senses of ‘home’, and re-inscribe through food-narratives their migrant history of struggles in Dominican Republic and the U.S. Basic contributions of this work are: 1) filling gaps in critical ethnographic research on food, gender and migration in Dominican and Caribbean studies; 2) development of a ‘foodmaps’ framework (a method-analytic frame to trace boundaries of ‘home’ through food relations); 3) examining food practices beyond ‘ethnic foodways’ tradition and nostalgia, but instead as critical and traumatic place-memory sites of implicit resistance, and as narrative spaces that re-inscribe working-class histories into hegemonic national narratives; 4) problematizing notions of private/public, personal/collective, memory/history in Afro-Caribbean socio-cultural formations; and 5) ‘native’ ethnography usage of interdisciplinary feminist, collaborative and media-based methodologies.