As I was sitting over at my Uncles house on Christmas eve surrounded by what appeared to be the last supper, I could not help but smile. As my eyes digested the scene, I scanned the table to see Macaroni au gratin, du riz a djon djon, rice and red beans, white rice, black bean sauce, salad russe, potato salad, fried chicken, chicken in sauce, lanbi, griot,
roast turkey, and everything else that was part of the Haitian culinary repertoire, I could not help wonder when and how him and my aunt had the time to make all that food. But then my concern quickly alleviated as I thought to myself, they do have 3 grown teenage girls, ages 14, 16 and 19. So as I feasted on the fabulous meal, I looked over at my youngest cousin, and asked her which of the dishes she made. Imagine my surprise when she said none. Then I asked the 16 year old. Same negative response. As I looked
over at the 19 year old, almost fearing her answer, yet still hopeful, she quickly answered,” well, I just started learning to cook, I made the potato salad”.
I could not believe my ears. A Haitian household, with 3 growing young ladies, yet none of them knew how to cook. How could this be? How did my aunt let this happen? How could she fail them so? Though I did not verbalize any of these questions, my look was so accusatory that she turned away. I felt bad. I felt bad because why would I place such emphasis on these kids not knowing how to cook? I almost looked at her as if she was a bad mother. This is America for Christ sake people can buy food at anytime of day or
night! It’s not that serious to know how to cook. Who was I to judge anyways? I mean, I know how to cook, but I probably cook at home probably about once every 3 months. But I know how to cook. My brother knows how to cook. It was just something we learned growing up.
Why is it that the new generation of Haitians are not acquiring that skill I wondered.
In a discussion with a friend, he mentioned perhaps it is maturity issue. Perhaps parents feel that kids are not mature yet to teach them the skill. I refute that argument somewhat. I learned how to cook from my dad at 8 years old. I don’t think he was thinking about my maturity level. In his opinion, cooking was essential, and I had to learn it.
Why are modern day parents not doing the same? I was perplexed.
After thinking about it for a few days, I thought I had it. Parents are not in control here in America. And they know it! In Haiti, and perhaps even when Haitians first come to this country, the buck stops with them they feel- and trust in that feeling. They believe they are in full control of the lives their kids lead. Unfortunately, modern parents have a fear that past generations did not. After being in this country, and watching news report after news report about parents being placed in jail for leaving their child alone, hitting their child, houses being burned down while kids were left unattended, etc…There’s a sense of fear that reigns most of their hearts. There’s this reality that exist here that your children are not really your own. So yes, while kids may not be interested in cooking because
they are busy learning the latest dance move, shopping or doing their school work, there is also no sense of urgency on the part of parents to push them either because the consequences may be too much for them to bear.
Sadly, Haitian parents are losing their bravado. They are actually waiting for their children to turn 18. At that point, there’s this sense of relief that they are no longer liable if anything happens. I am sure other factors affect the depreciation of culinary skills among our Haitian youth, but, I can’t help but think this fear of higher authority prevails- whether it’s the courts or the police- even if only on a subconscious level. This is sad,
because I remember as a 13 year old child, there was no greater pleasure for me than to whip up a meal and have adults compliment me on it. Though it was only cooking that they were complimenting me on, it gave me such a sense of pride that it transcended into all areas of my life. I wanted that praise and success in all that I did.