For the uninitiated, the quinceañera celebrates the passage of a fifteen-year-old girl into adulthood: It's a bit bat mitzvah with a dash of debutante ball, and loaded with the same potential for hilarity and adolescent angst. In this original anthology, fifteen of the brightest and funniest Latino writers, men and women alike, share their own memories of these moving and often absurd extravaganzas—tales of that unique form of familial humiliation that is borne of the best intentions, fierce love, and the infectious joy of parents finally allowing their little girl to grow up.
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About the Author
Adriana Lopez was the founding editor of Críticas magazine, Publishers Weekly's Spanish-language sister publication. Lopez's work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, among other publications. A member of the PEN American Center, she lives in New York City.
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Fifteen Candles15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and other Quinceanera Stories
By Adriana Lopez
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Adriana Lopez
All right reserved.
By Alberto Rosas
A few months ago my cousin Ilene asked if I wanted to be a godfather at her quinceañera. This meant I was getting old. Less than a decade earlier, girls had asked me to be their chambelán or chambelán de honor. At twenty-five, I still considered myself a good candidate for chambelán de honor. Ilene disagreed. Although I knew my answer to Ilene would be no, not wanting to hurt her feelings, I told her I would get back to her. Being in a quinceañera again went against my unwritten rule. I had called it quits after Yvette's party in 1997.
After Ilene left my apartment, I studied my aging reflection. Hair: black, full, healthy, and gray-free. Wrinkles: none, with the exception of a few character creases on my forehead. Still young. Still chambelán material.
My reflection stared at me as I washed my face. The cold water felt fresh against my skin. The water dripped from my face onto the sink. Droplets of champagne dripped from Yvette's hair as we danced. Small pieces of flan stuck to her face and neck. The melody of the waltz blared through the speakers as our bodies moved across the dance floor.
I couldn't shake the memories. Images from thatquince played in my mind like a movie. I saw her face, how sweet she looked in her flowing white gown. Those innocent green eyes stared out from a ghostly white face. Her mother's face appeared: seductive green eyes contrasting beautifully with naturally tanned skin. Then the flan came to mind. It was imported from Tijuana, the padrino said, and it was the best flan I had ever tasted.
Yvette stood in her backyard and barked orders at the group of damas and chambelanes. The majority of the group arrived late, and none of them knew the steps to the waltz.
"You all need to do it good," Yvette ordered.
"Maybe if we danced to hip-hop," a dama said.
"This is gay," a chambelán said.
We turned to look at the gay waltz coordinator, Esteban, who waved one hand in the air and mouthed "Whatever." We also looked at Yvette's lesbian mother, Ingrid, who just shook her head and said nothing.
Yvette took my hand. Esteban pressed a button on the oversized boom box and Chayanne's "Tiempo de Vals" began to play. Chayanne's waltz was a smooth mixture of romantic pop song with a waltz's repetitive three-count bass. This seemed to be a popular song for quinceañeras; it was the third time I had danced to it.
The couples danced around the crowded backyard, minimizing their moves to accommodate the small space. Yvette stared at her feet as she danced.
"Look at me," I said.
This was my eighth or ninth time as a chambelán, my fourth as the chambelán de honor. By seventeen, I was a waltz aficionado.
At my first quinceañera, when I was eleven years old, I couldn't decide whether I had two left or two right feet. The mariachi ballads and banda polkas were too complicated for my coordination. Besides, I hated that mariachi and banda shit. It wasn't until a few years later, when I was introduced to salsa and merengue, that I had discovered my hidden dancing abilities.
"You're a pretty good dancer," Yvette said.
"I'm the Latino John Travolta."
Though Yvette had been a dama in various quinces, the added stress of being the quinceañera turned her into a virgin on the dance floor. Plus, waltzing wasn't her thing; it was just something that she had to do. The waltz was interconnected with the quince and it was impossible to have one without the other. It would be like having beans without rice, a carne asada barbecue without beer, or a piñata without candy. It would be like having a daughter but not throwing her a quinceañera party. It was tradition.
Both the chambelanes and damas slouched as they danced, their shoulders hunched forward. The boys danced left to right in a simple one-two count instead of the one-two-three count.
"Guys, please," Esteban said, "don't drag your feet like you got sandals on or something."
"I hate this waltz shit," someone said.
During the break, we ran to the cooler for sodas. The seven damas stood in one corner of the backyard. Six of the chambelanes stood about on the front sidewalk, while Chuy went inside to watch TV. My slacks and polo shirts clashed with their baggy jeans and T-shirts. Feeling out of place, I remained in the yard and sat near Esteban and Ingrid Garcia, Yvette's mother.
Yvette stood next to a husky boy about my age. He had a few thick whiskers outlining a thin goatee. I envied his thick facial hair compared to my sprouting peach fuzz. I met him a year earlier around the time I met Yvette, when she and I were dama and chambelán in Alma's quince. Yvette and I became friends after that and I always thought of her as a kid sister. It was at Alma's quince that I met Carlos, Yvette's boyfriend. He arrived at the quince with baggy pants and a bandana hanging from his rear pocket. Alma told him to leave, Alma and Yvette got into an argument, and the two never spoke again. So when Yvette asked me to be her chambelán de honor, I asked, "What about your boyfriend?"
"He can't dance."
"Maybe I can teach him some moves."
I didn't know any of Yvette's friends. The seven chambelanes appeared to be young gangbangers or wannabes. The film Mi Familia had been released about a year earlier, and the chambelanes aspired to be vatos locos like Jimmy Smits's character. Their short-sleeved shirts and tank tops revealed the latest trends in homemade tattoos, which consisted of skeletal outlines of partial images and misspellings, like the chambelán's tattoo that read "Yes Sí" instead of "Jesse." The damas wore too much makeup and talked nonstop about Enrique Iglesias, who had recently made it onto the music scene. The damas wore Enrique T-shirts and imitated his Spanish lisp.
Excerpted from Fifteen Candles by Adriana Lopez Copyright © 2007 by Adriana Lopez. Excerpted by permission.
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