- Abr 01, 2011 • 13:28h
- 18 comentarios
I awaited my 15th birthday with equal parts terror and excitement. Terror because with every sun that set I was one day closer to becoming… a Cuban Quinceañera.
Being a Quinceañera would be frightening enough but I knew my mother had the desire and stamina to take this coming of age ritual to a whole other level of horror.
She had been saving since before I was born to ensure that her (apocalyptic) vision for my Quinces was fulfilled. We went down to our neighborhood Quinceañera rental shop and I got to watch as she selected: a large white hoop skirt that looked like it had swallowed up Scarlett O’Hara, a sexy corset top (because nothing says “look at me, I’m 15” like a sexy corset), a tiara larger than my head, shiny white elbow-length gloves, a lace umbrella and a long velvet cape trimmed with fuchsia fuzz along the edges.
It was my very own Nightmare on West Flagler Street and it would begin with a photo session where I’d have to wear the aforementioned “outfit” out around town and act as if this was totally normal behavior.
As part of the Deluxe Quinceañera Package, I got to have a photographer drive my deliriously happy mother and I around Miami’s upscale Coral Gables neighborhood for two hours. The old Spanish architecture of its homes and streets were an obvious Quinceañera backdrop. Nobody seemed to hear when I said that a lot of the cool kids from my school lived in this neighborhood. Probably because I was hiding inside my hoop skirt. The photographer would pull over from time to time and my mother would force me to stand next to a street lamp or in front of someone’s house because it resembled a Mexican hacienda. I stood there twirling my umbrella, forcing a smile and imagined the family inside.
“There’s another one of those girls with a lace umbrella at the gate Bob, should we call the police?” “Nah, let’s take pity on her Marge. She seems embarrassed enough as it is.” “You’re right, poor thing… maybe we should adopt her?”
And just when I thought the nightmare was over, it was time for my Quinces Party where I’d get to dance waltzes with my brother and father and godfather as if this was somehow entertaining for the invited family and friends. I’d also have to have my picture taken with every single one of my cousins as I stood by the 5-tiered meringue cake with a tiny Quinceañera on top. If I had been her I would have jumped.
But even with all of the madness of the dress, photo session and party, I was still looking forward to turning the big 1-5 because it meant that finally, once and for all, after all that waiting, I’d be allowed to do things that every other girl on the planet had been allowed to do for years.
On that day, at the stroke of midnight, I would finally be able to wear makeup, pluck my eyebrows and shave my legs. You see my mother was part of an ever-diminishing group (perhaps the only surviving member) of Latin society that believed a girl should be as undesirable as humanly possible until she was 15. And then suddenly it was fine to sell her off to the highest bidder.
These rules weren’t too uncommon when I was in Junior High. If you had stepped into the girl’s bathroom at the end of the day you’d see all the teenage Latinas shoving their way up to the sinks, rushing to get their makeup off so their parents wouldn’t see it when they got home. The opposite would be true at the beginning of the day, when these girls were all civility and politeness as they asked to borrow each other’s eyeliners and lipsticks. To me, these girls were renegades. Wearing makeup at school behind your mother’s back was the ultimate act of rebellion and I knew it wasn’t worth the risk. For my mother, this was the equivalent of me stabbing someone or declaring myself an atheist.
But by the 10th grade, all of these girls were coming to school with their makeup fully applied. From the comfort of their homes, their steady hands perfected liquid eyeliner and made themselves look like their favorite historical figure, Cleopatra. They had worn their Latin mothers down with complaints and tantrums. But I knew mine was in it to win it, so I had no other choice but to wait.
What’s worse is that I wasn’t your typical girl.
I had such long, dark hair on my legs that child advocacy groups would have supported my shaving at age 5. Folicly, I developed early and by age 10, I classified less as “little girl” and more as “escaped orangutan from the zoo.” Interesting side notes: I loved climbing trees and was way better at it than my brothers and my favorite fruit has always been the banana.
At least I could wear sweatpants to gym class but there was no getting around my eyebrows. It wasn’t a unibrow, it was more of a 2 way street and took up a lot of real estate on my forehead. This is all proof that deep down, Cuban mothers only love their first-born sons.
But my birthday was coming up and the wait would be over. It would fall on a Tuesday, which meant that on Monday I’d walk past the Latin Cleopatras and the unblemished rosy-cheeked American girls looking like one of Frida Kahlo’s monkeys for the last time. On Tuesday, I’d be one of them or ideally somewhere in between.
At midnight, like a werewolf in reverse, I shaved my legs for the first time. Six razor blades later, the hair was gone… as were a few layers of skin on my shins and above my ankles.
I reached for the tweezers. For every thick eyebrow hair that I plucked, a droplet of blood formed in its place and in the morning, tiny scabs spotted my forehead.
Feeling womanly, I opened one of the seven makeup palettes I had received for my birthday and went crazy. My eyelids became mixmatched sets of tie-dye rainbows. My cheeks and lips were hot pink explosions. My tan skin turned white by a cake of the wrong tone Walgreens foundation. I slathered mousse all over my waist-length hair and used a diffuser for bigger curls. Overnight, I had gone from Monkey Girl to Bozo The Clown That’s Also a Mime.
I walked into first period and immediately thought things were finally going my way because Bradley was approaching me for the first time ever. “You must be quince now,” he said pronouncing it “keensay” all proud of himself for being down with the Spanish lingo. My transformation had not gone unnoticed. I realized quickly that the only thing worse than not being able to wear makeup was finally being allowed to wear it, wearing too much, and being called out for it. Before lunchtime I was in the bathroom washing it all off.
The good news was that a few weeks later, my Quinceañera portrait arrived. My mother was ecstatic as two men lugged the giant 6 x 4 foot beast into the house. When the brown paper wrapping came off, I almost choked on my banana. I had seen many Quince portraits before, but this one was life-size. Framed in a Louis XIV-inspired golden frame was another me, frozen in time, forever twirling her umbrella and wearing too much makeup. About to enter through the gate to her Mexican hacienda, she seemed happy and proud of her heritage. She took up an entire wall in our living room, and I believe, kept our home safe from burglars for many years.