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  • Abr 01, 201113:28h
  • 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.

Lissette Decos
Nueva York

Publicado en
18 respuestas

  • pd dice:

    Manuel, es una larga historia. Badué hizo una traducción defectuosa que luego fue corregida por Prieto. Estoy al tanto porque antes de que Prieto se ocupara, yo mismo corregí buena parte del texto –pero no llegué a un acuerdo con los editores de Vintage en español, que prefirieron contratar finalmente a Prieto.

  • Anónimo:

    Entonces su comentario está más confuso aun. Si Vd. está citando a José Manuel Prieto, ¿cómo es que ese señor dice que “[l]a idea me vino mientras trabajaba en la traducción de Waiting for Snow in Havana, de Carlos Eire”? Que yo sepa, el señor Prieto no tradujo el libro de Eire. El traductor de la edición en español es José Badue.

  • Anonimo dice:

    Yo creo que lo que le pasa a ese ritual es que se quedó vacío de contenido. Que era: poner en circulación a una jovencita ya casadera a los quince años, para que los posibles candidatos pudieran apreciarla. Al no existir esto, que era su razón de ser y su lógica, pues quedó desprovista de sentido. Pero desde la óptica anterior, la verdad que funcionaba muy bien. Ahora, sin embargo, ni la niña de quince está para que la casen, por muy temprano, ni lo necesita, porque ya anda por su cuenta. Por ahí van los tiros, creo. Lindo post de Lissete Decos, que en los años transcurridos desde su quince nada ha perdido de su belleza, más bien lo contrario. Muah!

  • el cojo dice:

    En Miami no se exactamente que se hara, pero en Cuba la familia se pasa la infancia de la nina ahorrandose los pocos quilos que pueden conseguir para despues tirar la casa por la ventana ya no con las fiestas, que al menos se disfrutarian un poco, sino principalmente con las fotos con los trajes antiguos y demas atuendos eroticos al peor estilo cabaret. Se hace mucho dinero con el asunto de las fotos. La misma empresa te proporciona la casa antigua, los vestidos, el fotografo, el album, la portada de revista, y un monton de cosas mas que llegan a remontarse en altisimas sumas de dinero. Al final la nina se quedo sin fiesta, sin otros regalos mas agradecibles y la familia sigue mordiendo el cable. Ah, y dos anos mas tarde la nina no quiere ver las fotos ni en pintura. Y sobre lo de no maquillarse y demas antes de los 15, eso es cosa de antes, vayan y vean!

  • el guajiro dice:

    Y pensar q la misma mierda se come en ambas orillas aunque en una de las dos sea prohibitiva por la miseria

  • Maniel Rodríguez dice:

    Los 15 en Cuba es lo más atrasado que he visto en mi vida, además mientras más pobres eran los que lo hacían y peor vivían más se empeñaban en dicho día, hasta la palangana y despues se colo to el mundo al final pana solo alardear delante de los demás.

    El padre orgulloso por la fiesta y al final le bailaban la paloma, y las fotos de escándalo.

    Aunque metían buenas cajitas y al final se jugaba a la botellita y al dale al que no te dio.

  • El Niño Atómico dice:

    Nunca se me había ocurrido que alguna quinceañera pudiera sentirse así, creía que eso era algo que añoraban desde chiquitas. Gracioso el post.

  • Leah dice:

    Ay Rolando, me has hecho reir como loco con tu comment, pero tienes razon. Coincido contigo. Y te cuento que no solo se come esa mojonera en Cuba, en muchisimos paises de latinoamerica es el mismo cuento ridiculo. Yo tengo 35 años y puedo decir orgullosamente que a mi y a mi hermana hubiera habido que amarrarnos para engancharnos un esperpento de vuelos de esos. Mas bien le advertimos a mi mama que de eso nada!!! y la pobre, ella tambien sufrio con los 15 de ella y se solidarizo completamente con nosotras. Asi que las fotos de los 15 de mi hermana y mios no son mas nada que fotos familiares como las de cualquier celebracion.

  • y… ¿qué es lo que “esperamos” de esta página, Manuel? cuídese del “royal we”, del “nosotros comunitario” y boberías similiares… ud. espera una cosa, mientras… por otro lado… en la amplitud del diasporón…

    yo siempre espero una sorpresa, por eso vengo… sé que me voy a encontrar con noticias sobre Cuba y tecnologías web actualizadas, con ensayos intelectuales, con música de ñañaseré y de raperos protestones, con crónicas de viajes, con relatos y experimentos lingu:ísticos, con lectores consevadores –que suelen ser los que más opinan–, con nuevos escritores.

    y sí, cierto, todo se proyecta desde el punto de vista conservador del editor del blog, pero al césar lo que es del césar… el flaco se atreve y se mete en zonas donde la mayoría ni se asoma (a no ser TMB, desde el opuesto balcón liberal).

    porque tal vez este tema sea trillado y poco atractivo, especialmente para un hombre, pero es un tema de “nuestra cultura” por muy ridículo, burgués y anticuado que sea.

    y lo inesperado de encontrarlo en PD, narrado en inglés con cierta gracia y desparpajo, es lo que da riqueza y diversidad a este blog…

  • Anonimo dice:

    Manuel Tellechea
    es una cita de una entrevista, y está entre comillas. lea bien.

  • Rolando dice:

    Este escrito debería ser leído por cada madre cubana para que se den cuenta de la mierda que se come con los jodidos quince de las niñas. Dan pena esas chicas tan monas disfrazadas de damas francesas del siglo de la escopeta. Los “15”, su celebración a lo cuban way, deberían considerarse un abuso a la adolecencia y ser castigado duramente por la ley.

  • manuel dice:

    buena escritora aunque tema trillado y nada que ver con lo que esperamos de ésta página…

  • ¿Qué sentido tiene firmarse “Anónimo” a la misma vez que se identifica como el traductor de la versión castellana de Waiting for Snow in Havana?

  • lisy,
    me encantó… tú tuviste suerte, a mí no me dejaron usar maquillaje ni tener novio como hasta los veinte años…

  • Anonimo dice:

    Con relación a este excelente post de PD cabe recordar lo que dijo el novelista José Manuel Prieto hace algún tiempo en una entrevista, cuando le preguntaron “¿qué opinión tienes de las autobiografías cubanas en inglés?”
    La respuesta de José Manuel Prieto fue:

    “La negativa que da Cuba a esas literaturas no tiene en cuenta la tradición de otros países bilingües, cuyas literaturas nacionales se dan, por fuerza, en más de una lengua. Cuba, debido a la enorme diáspora, se ha convertido en un país bilingüe. Si en España la literatura vasca o la catalana son parte de esa nación; y lo mismo en Bélgica, en valón y en francés, o bien en Rusia, donde hay escritores completamente bilingües, no veo por qué en el caso cubano deba haber una distinción.

    Ernesto Mestre, el autor de The Lazarus Rumba, se considera a sí mismo un escritor cubano. Ana Menéndez también, y muchos otros. Es una cantidad enorme de libros que el país no puede permitirse el lujo de echar por la borda, por el mero hecho de que estén escritos en otra lengua. Y a mí se me ocurre incluir en un próximo curso una serie de autores cubanos que escriben en inglés. La idea me vino mientras trabajaba en la traducción de Waiting for Snow in Havana, de Carlos Eire.”

  • Embarrassment is not the prevailing emotion for most Cuban-American girls who undergo this ritual, nor is ridiculing it a defense mechanism that all embrace as the price of assimilation. It is, or should be, the culmination of 15 years of boundless love, indulgence and pride, and the foreboding of a separation which is the parents’ ultimate sacrifice for love’s sake. Respect for our traditions is also a part of patriotism, and when our country itself is not accessible to us, its culture and rituals must stand in its stead reminding us of all that we lost and all that we still retain.

  • buena decisión editorial de PD de publicar esta serie de vignettes cubanoamericanas, en inglés, que es el idioma en que muchos cubanoamercanos se sienten más a gusto… porque es importante anotar que no todos los que leen y participan en la blogosfera cubana de este lado cursamos secundaria en la Lenin ni estudiamos en la U deLaHabana y privilegios de ese tipo …

    dicho eso, Ms. Decos has a fresh writing style that utilizes images in a very colloquial manner… one, myself, being Cuban-American and having shared some of the same experiences, to a point, can identify and enjoy the weirdness of growing-up stuck in the middle of two cultures… wanting to belong to the “heritage” at the same time that its absurdity made us cringe…

  • LUIS dice:

    Lissette, i bet your 1st communion portrait was slightly smaller…great story, excellent writing, thanks for sharing it!