Podcast: Immigration to the U.S. Draws Haitian Men into the Kitchen
Can immigration subvert traditional gender roles? Reporter Nadege Fleurimond of Feet in 2 Worlds found that for some Haitian men, living in the United States has meant stepping into the kitchen, a territory that they were raised to think of as a woman’s domain.
Listen above to Feet in 2 World’s John Rudolph interview Fleurimond, as she expands on the anecdotes in her article and compares the social structures in Haiti with those of United States.
For Brooklyn resident and Haitian native Ronald Glemaud, 47, it was marriage — and later divorce — that turned him into “a master chef in his community,” he explained to Fleurimond.
“Marriage made a cook out of me, and divorce made me even better at the craft,” Ronald explained.
“When I arrived home one day from work to find my wife who for months had been on hiatus from work, I thought it a natural question to ask, ‘what’s for dinner?’ The answer I received was a diatribe about how she was not my maid and I better not expect her to monte chodye – cook – every day. From that conversation I took the cue that I better fend for myself,” Ronald told me. “So I started cooking. By the time we divorced years later, I had already become the head cook in the household.”
Donald Toussaint, 42, a Newark resident who grew up in Haiti, said it was his mother that banished him from the kitchen. He elaborated:
“I loved going in there because there was always such good cheer and camaraderie in the kitchen that I wanted to be part of the action. However, my mother said that this was not a place for boys. Hence, I never learned to cook. I never had to. My mother cooked and then my girlfriends and later wife cooked. I am almost sad at times I never learned because it is now my wish that I could cook my mother a meal the way she has cooked one for me all my life.”
For one American-based Haitian couple, Fabienne Blanchard and Randel Berha, determining which person cooked was a matter of what “made sense.”
“Haiti, like many other Caribbean nations, still holds on to traditional values as the expense of advancement,” said Fabienne Blanchard, a Haitian immigrant who lives with her husband, Randel Berha, in New York.
Do the old rules of home apply in the U.S? Not according to this pair, whose friends refer to as the “ideal couple.” They have been married 12 years, have two beautiful children and both work full time.
So who does the cooking? “The everyday cook is my husband, said Fabienne. “I cook on special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Berha explained the distribution of labor: “While we both work hard, I realized that my work schedule allowed more time in the evening hours for me to cook dinner. It wasn’t an issue of a man or a woman thing. It just made sense.”
Berha’s cooking has earned him some renown beyond the family’s kitchen.
Berha has gotten so comfortable cooking that last year he even entered and won a male cooking contest on Father’s Day. “My mango and beet salad is what I think gave me the edge in that competition,” he said with sheepish, yet proud, smile. As he placed a small plate of it in front of me to sample, I had to admit, it was delicious. These Haitian men can certainly cook.