Monday, November 3, 2008


Yadira Arroyo

This past weekend was my cousin Erika’s quinceañera. The whole family came out to celebrate her presentation to the “adult” world. My father told me earlier that day that he was not going to drink. At the statement, my mom felt his forehead for a fever and I smirked. In the middle of the party, I reminded him of his proclamation.

“¿Esta no es boda?” he asked with a feigned look of surprise. “Me malentendiste. Dije que solo si era boda.” We all had our fun.

As I stood in the background through the entire day’s events, I could not help but think of my own quinceañera a few years back. I thought about it when we were in the two-quinceañeras-for-one mass (efficiency!), when we went to the East LA park for the princess photo shoot, and later on when I was inebriated and calling forth my otherwise-shunned Jalisco roots by zapateando clumsily. Except of course, that I didn’t really have a quince, in the spectacular sense of the word.

There were several reasons, but perhaps the most controversial was the following: la misa. Although, I was only 14 at the time, I had been a staunch atheist since I was 12.

“¿Cómo vas a tener una quinceañera sin misa?” would ask my mother, puzzled.

“Pues fácil,” I would reply. “Sin misa.”

Or, there was always the more engaging:

“Yadira, ¿qué te cuesta sentarte en una silla por una pinche hora?”

“¡Pero yo no creo en eso! ¿Y si me empiezo a reír?”

Variants of this conversation would continue for a few months prior to the weekend of my fifteenth birthday. Teenage angst took its toll; how I hated religion! The thought of going through with the ceremony seemed hypocritical on far too many levels.

Either way, my mother wouldn’t have it and I wouldn’t have it and so, the potential guests didn’t have it.

Oh yes, the guests. As their only daughter and eldest child, my parents certainly fancied the idea of presenting me to the world, a proper and primp señorita. Herein lays another problem: I was nothing of the sort. I was, at best, awkward at 15 and having been raised in a very private home setting, I kept only a handful of friends. I was almost emotionally indifferent to mere acquaintances, and the thought of hosting these strangers at my big day not only seemed superficial, but quite frankly, annoying. That and I sure as hell did not want to do it in a pink dress, which at the time, my mom believed was the way to go.

And so, unwilling to compromise what were then my super revolutionary ideals, my mind knew that a quinceañera was not for me. Nevertheless, standing in the midst of a barrio upbringing, with its high school amigas, Spanish-language commercial signage and early-morning tamaleros ambulantes in the year 2001, my heart ached for acceptance as a daughter who could be presentable and whom my parents would be proud of.

One week prior to my birthday, my parents caved. As they were sitting on the back doorstep and I was walking from my room to the kitchen, I heard them murmur in all their regret. Months had passed by and not a single proactive move to plan mi fiesta was made; never mind that ideologically, it could not have been. They looked up at me as I walked back to my room and my mother called my name. I looked down to where they sat and they looked back and forth at each other, a bit nervously. One of them finally spoke. With my approval, I was to have a party con DJ and a lavender dress the following weekend.

I know that by speaking my mind and being una niña especial, it will always be difficult to gain effortless acceptance from the eldest bearers of my culture, namely my parents. This fact has been quite painful, but I’ve also always wanted things far greater than the grasp of any social confine could offer. Thankfully, my parents have stood by me, through reluctance and relajo.

While I respect and yes, broodingly envy other muchachitas who have bailado el vals and greeted their guests merrily, having a quinceañera could never be for this “loca”, as my mom so kindly puts it. If being mexicana means being una “buena” hija, or falling neatly into the role of a beautiful, altruistic, obedient and domestic daughter, then my identity is inevitably threatened . But, if it in the context of progress, it also calls on a history of pride and resistance, then I reckon I’ll be just fine.

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