One piece of art at the Museo del Arte de Puerto Rico that exemplifies the status of the plantain in the Puerto Rican society was a painting by Carlos Dávila Rinaldi, “Esa mancha é plátano no la quita nadie: La Gringomatic” (1998). In English, the title literally translates to “That Stain is from a Plantain and Nobody takes it out: The ‘Gringomatic.’” The colorful artwork, with bold and unblended brushstrokes, depicts a machine, dubbed the “gringomatic,” and a two-dimensional man folded over hanging from a clothes line and held by two red clips. The painting itself is also canvas but without a frame, giving natural creases of fabric complementing the man draped over the clothes line. One more intriguing aspect of the painting is that the man has a price-tag wrapped around his right ring finger—perhaps giving Dávila Rinaldi’s critique of the United States viewing Puerto Rico as solely a means to gain capital. Dávila Rinaldi depicts the “gringomatic” as the machine, like a washing machine, through which Puerto Ricans must pass in order to become part of the United States and integrate into American culture—becoming a “gringo,” or an American.
Although all Puerto Rican citizens hold U.S. passports, the commonwealth itself holds a liminal status between independent nation and state. The man in the painting—frail, thin, and white— after being processed through the machine presumably multiple times beseeches: “Sir, we’ve tried everything for the last 100 years but that damn plantain stain won’t come out!” signifying that although Puerto Rico might be a quasi-part of the United States, it is by no means seamlessly integrated. The culprit for this? The plantain. The plantain cannot and will not go away: it is permanently stained, permanently ingrained, in what it means to be Puerto Rican. Does the plantain really represent everything? Are we what we eat? As Massimo Montanari, a noted food historian, states, “man is what he eats…but the opposite is no less true, man eats what he is: his own values, choices, and culture” (Flandrin & Montanari, 24-25). Claude Fischler, a social scientist, says that taste is “a sense strongly marked by affectivity, colored by emotion,” which, although the psychological formation of taste is debatable, describes the plantain excellently (89). The plantain holds not only nutritional value, but also emotional and cultural value for Puerto Ricans.
Dávila Rinaldi, Carlos. Esa mancha é plátano no la quita nadie: La Gringomatic. 1998. El Museo del
Arte de Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Painting.
Fischler, Claude. El homnivoro. Mexico City, Mexico: Anagrama, 1995.
Flandrin, Jean-Louis & Massimo Montanari. Historia de la alimentación. Gijón, Spain: Trea, 2004. Print.