I don’t like photos because they literally turn people into posers. When someone wants to take a picture, everyone stops what they are doing and poses. They are posing, which makes them posers. It is an artificial moment in time that is recorded, and when a manufactured moment is the only concrete documentation of an event, people tend to remember things incorrectly.
At this moment, I am struggling to get into a black tuxedo that was prepaid for me. Three other escorts and I stand inside a large boutique, about to have our picture taken before my niece’s Quinceañera, a Latina’s fifteenth birthday party. It is supposedly a cultural tradition that marks a young girl’s entrance into womanhood, but the entire fiasco stinks of artificiality to me.
From experience, I understand that Mexicans don’t understand everything they say; Mexicans just do things because that is the way it is done.
Traditionally, a quince is first blessed at a Church, usually Catholic, considering that Mexican Indians were conquered by Spanish Conquistadores. This would imply that the Quinceañera was a European tradition, as some priests and European scholars would declare; in fact, some say the tradition of a specialized debutant ball came from Europe, but there is another story.
The other story involves Aztecs, Mayans, or some type of Pre-Colombian Americans who flaunted their daughters to society, showcasing them as ready to marry and bear children.
Regardless, both situations involve a family thrusting their daughter into the public eye, but I like to believe the Aztec story more. Granted, both stories involve elaborate costume and ritual, but it makes more sense in regards to the Aztecs.
The Spanish conquered the Aztecs not with violence, but with germs and brainwashing; the Aztecs were more creative in their violence.
The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice; they believed their gods created them by sacrificing themselves to stop doomsday, and in return, the Aztecs had to constantly mutilate themselves or shed blood as tribute. Sure, the Catholics were some strict people, what with their inquisitions, but they didn’t routinely flagellate themselves, drain their blood into ceremonial vases, and send virgins to the top of temples as offerings to the gods where they would be shot with arrows and have their heart cut out and eaten by a ceremonial priest.
As far as I’m concerned, dolling up your daughter and giving her a fairy tale ceremony is more in line with the Aztecs, who scholars also claim started proto-Quinceañeras. It all seems very similar to the preparation of a human sacrifice.
Basically, no one knows the origin in full; Mexicans can be white as gringos, or as dark as negros. A majority of Mexicans are Mestizos, mixed people. Part White European Spanish, part Native Indian.
For some reason, every Mexican I’ve met has that same calendar of an Aztec Warrior holding a dead woman in his arms, looking up the sky in agony, yet they watch novellas full of blonde haired blue eyed folk, and they make fun of Oaxacans for being so dark. This shit don’t make no sense.
“Let’s hurry it up, gentlemen,” says the photographer, a young white man possibly still in college, “I have to be to the church in twenty minutes, then I have to catch the birthday girl for the pre-party photos at the venue.”
My compatriots consist of my brother, a gang member, and one of my dad’s friends who doesn’t quite speak English.
“Pinche gringo puta-”
“Shut up,” I say to the gangster wannabe, turning my attention to the photographer, “Listen, we ain’t paying you to mouth off, we’re paying you to take pictures. You want to snap a shot of me in my undies, I don’t care. Fifty bucks says no one else is ready anyway.”
“I don’t think you understand-”
“I went to college too, I ain’t stupid,” I say, “And one of the most basic lessons you should have learned years ago is that any job requiring customer service is going to suck; so suck it up and take the pictures. If you talk shit like this in front of the women, they will fuck you up worse than we can.”
In my opinion, photos taken spontaneously and without warning are the only true photos. He takes our picture. My pants are around my ankles, my vest is still crooked, and my hair has not been combed. A little voyeuristic, but it captures the frenzy in the air, so I let it go. Our immigrant friend, Nereo smiled a toothy grin for his photos, while gangster boy Raul raises his chin in the air like a thug. My brother, Julio, poses like a solemn Marine about to be shipped out somewhere, and then the photographer vanishes.
“The fuck is your problem?” says Julio.
“You know I hate these parties. Hey, here’s my daughter, let all these men stare at her because she’s ready to have kids. Someone please knock her up, it’s not like she’s supposed to do anything else with her life.”
“It’s culture, guey,” says the little gangster boy.
“You don’t know shit about your culture,” I say, “Julio, remember how long it took our sister to run away and get knocked up after her quince? Shit, maybe getting pregnant at fifteen made sense in the 1700’s when people only lived to thirty, but that shit is weird now.”
Julio waved me off and the little gangster boy was quiet. I can tell the kid is insecure; these parties made me feel like shit. Being a Mexican boy is tough, considering that girls mature much faster and start getting picked up by older men. I can’t say that it’s as simple as old men preying on young girls; the crazy thing is that a bunch of little Latinas want to get picked up by older men, they want to get married, they want to drop out of high school and they want to have six kids. Not all of them, but a lot.
These kids are all pumped full of brainwashing. Today’s ceremony, like many other quinces, has a fairy tale theme; Cinderella, I believe. Cinderella is quite a popular theme, considering the slippers. Most Quinceañeras involve a father removing a little girl’s flat shoes and putting heels onto his daughter’s feet, implying she is now a woman. That makes the Cinderella theme easier I suppose, but it seems a little creepy, not to mention that most quinces that I’ve been to involve special money dance where the young girl dances with many men who use safety pins to attach various dollar bills to her dress. If that’s not fucked up in an anthropological sense, then I don’t know what is.
“Shut up and put on your tux,” says Julio. He doesn’t want to hear my protests or my explanations. He just wants to get this over with. Mexicans just do things.
I’m very flustered, but my niece convinced me to come; she admitted to me that the cultural aspects of the ceremony didn’t really matter to her. She just wanted a party. Shallow? Perhaps, but I can respect her honesty and her wish to have fun.
Also, the food is very good, so I accepted her request to be an escort. There is always lots of good tomato rice, and at least three types of bean dishes, including mashed beans, black bean soup, and the slow-cooked beans with the bacon bits. That doesn’t even include the meats; fajitas and moist pork; I saw my pa cutting up a pig himself, throwing the meat into a giant iron comale outside, roasting it over a fire with lard and salt. God, I haven’t had good goat in years either.
It is expected for everyone to eat as much as possible, and to take several plates worth of leftovers home. Anything less is an insult, and it makes cleaning easier. I can see the old ladies serving people now; white hair, wrinkly arms dark skin, smiling as they offer you more food. For some reason, all the older ladies at these parties like me; they want to set me up with their daughters, nieces or granddaughters.
For some reason, my mother brags about my Bachelor’s Degree to her friends, and while I am currently unemployed, I seem a big catch to these doñas. If anything, I’m jealous of the dropouts and rowdier Mexicans who actually have high paying jobs at the moment. However, I know that they work physically strenuous jobs that will break their bodies by their late forties, so I try to think happy thoughts as these people, much less educated than I, flaunt their wealth at a post-college bum like me. But maybe these older ladies like me just because I’m an escort and wearing a tux.
My duty as an escort requires that I be part of a court and learn a special Waltz and ceremonial walk. When entering the dancehall, I have to accompany a young woman (one of my niece’s friends) and take one step forward, one step left, one step back, then another step forward, followed by a right step. I forget the order, so basically I’m relying on my dance partner, who makes me very uncomfortable in the way she fawns over me. She can’t be older than seventeen and I can tell she wants my babies. I am not a handsome man, but an older, supposedly wiser man (I am not).
When I was younger I had a sixteen year old female friend who dated a twenty-two year old college graduate; the girl had a bad relationship with her parents, and though I wouldn’t call her fractured, she was certainly not as smart as she thought she was (not that I was either). I was jealous of this girl, smitten with a boyish crush. Oh, I wanted to have sex with her, but I couldn’t compete with those older guys. He stole my property! Yes, misogynistic, I know, but I was still brainwashed and heartbroken, a very deadly combination.
I was also disgusted at both of them. I knew then that as an older man, I couldn’t date anyone young; what the hell could they talk about or have in common? Not that it mattered; talking was likely not important to them.
Either way, it made me feel strange. I am not afraid of female sexuality, I celebrate it, but I believe all humans need to seriously think about things before they do them. But Mexicans? Mexicans just do things.
The four of us finally have our tuxes on, and we leave the boutique and drive towards the church. Traffic is messy, and all that can go wrong is going wrong. Ma calls Julio and asks what is taking so long, and he tells her to relax.
The ceremony? More elaborate than a wedding it is. Hell, most people agree that a quince is a pre-wedding. There will be flowers, decorations, centerpieces, a venue, a court, a fancy dress, food, a DJ, and a live band. It shows off a girl to potential suitors (older men, or men pretending to be gangsters because gang membership equals masculinity for some reason) and it gets the girl used to being a princess/trophy.
Look, I love my culture, but not less than one hundred years ago in Mexico it was perfectly acceptable for a forty year old man to buy a fifteen year old girl’s hand in marriage.
God bless those junior feminists who stay in school, though I still hold some resentment against them for not having sex with me (that explains why I had to sleep with white women; totally not my fault). Latinas either get knocked up and knocked off track, or they stick close to the Virgin Mary and keep their asses in check.
What’s funny is that this is what the Catholics are trying to preach in their special quince masses, but the Spanish-Catholic dynamic has always been fucked up. They’re going to tell my niece to be obedient, submissive and selfless; dedicated to husband and family. Hurry up and get married; Spain was pedophilic too.
Okay, maybe I’m cynical, but there is the last doll,laúltima muñeca.
It’s a doll in a fancy dress that looks like the birthday girl, but it also symbolizes her growth. As a woman, the child no longer will play with dolls, but it also serves as the child she is soon supposed to have to be a good Mexican woman.
I know I must sound racist to my own people, but statistics don’t lie. The men end up in gangs and sent to jail without any serious education, and the women get pregnant a lot without education either. There are a few success stories, but I can’t count five Mexican celebrities off the top of my head. And when I say Mexican, I don’t mean some fake ass Mexican, I mean a real one. George Lopez kind of makes it, but he’s an asshole. One of his bits is relevant to this whole affair; Mexicans don’t like when other Mexicans make it big. You want a ‘You Think You’re Big and Bad Now’ card? How about a ‘You Ain’t Shit’ balloon?
Part of me hopes that I am just jealous and hateful at the world. That would mean my assumptions are wrong and that this is all a very nice cultural expression, even though no one knows what the hell is going on.
I truly don’t understand why Mexicans come to America and try so firmly to hold onto their roots. I respect the effort to preserve culture, but the culture isn’t going to surround you, even if you live in a Mexican neighborhood. The TV will be English, the schools will be English, the books, movies, everything will be not-Mexican. If you’re going to live in America, you have to accept that you will be assimilated; no one will force you, it just happens.
Why come to America if you didn’t want to be American?
But then I realize that I sound like an angry redneck and I hate myself for five minutes, but Mexico is not home anymore. The Motherland is very far from home, and sometimes the culture just feels like an illusion. We might as well worship ghosts or Huitzilopochtli.
Latinas that are Americanized tend to do better; they get sex education and they pay attention. They know what they’re doing, and they avoid the traps. Same with parents; they don’t drive their kids away.
But then I think that Americanized means white. Damn, I don’t want to be white. I want to be me, but what the fuck does that mean? Too much brainwashing.
We get to the church and watch as my niece, Lily, gets her blessing from a tired priest who wants this Disney shit out of his church. After this, we run out of the pews and cram ourselves into a limo headed towards the dance hall.
A limo, how expensive is this thing? People waste so much money on these quinces that they drive themselves into debt. Now that I am up close with Lily, I can see that her dress is truly radiant. Not radiant enough to kill my frustration, but enough that I know a few good c-notes went out the window. And she is wearing a tiara. My God, she really is a princess.
The fairy tale trap; sit down and wait for a good man. I warn Lily about her future.
“Stay in school and don’t get pregnant. Get birth control if you have to, it’s free. Always use condoms, buy Plan B if you have to, and don’t let some guy mess you up.”
“I’m not stupid,” said Lily, “I’m not getting knocked up like those other girls. You gonna banish me if I do?”
“Yeah, but we both know that won’t last.”
I smiled at her, but I was still worried that something fucked up could happen to her if she wasn’t cautious. Yes, I know, from a feminist viewpoint, she shouldn’t have to be worried about walking through town alone at night, instead we should shame rape culture and whatnot, but come on; I’m worried about how the world is now, not how it should be.
As I lecture her on these topics, she continues to smart-mouth me.
The little rat gets her sarcasm from our side of the family. Good. Young Latinos don’t like that, those little machismo fuckers. They’re too busy looking for a surrogate mother; they think a dick is an umbilical cord. They think they can get women to wash their clothes, clean house and cook food. Don’t get me wrong, if a rich and beautiful woman came up to me and offered to do everything, I’d go with it, but she shouldn’t have to.
God, I sound racist. But it happens. Drunk-ass Mexicans who scream and beat their wives. Or single mothers. That doesn’t mean Mexican women are gentle little flowers; they will fuck you up. There is so much negativity attached to my people, and this is why I dance whenever I watch the news and see that the perpetrator of some stupid crime was a white dude.
I want to talk with Lily more in our Limo, but the girls we are escorting (and Lily’s mother) push us away. I know it is sexist to compare them to witches, but they began to babble so quickly with their accessories that I cannot help but see the similarities.
Her mother told me that the quince did bring them closer together. So much planning was involved, and both the mother and daughter were forced into close quarters for the whole thing. It helps the relationship, I suppose. I’m the last person to explain how women bond in this patriarchal world, but they do appear to be fighting the same common enemy at this point; failure.
Failure at what? I don’t know. How does one fail at having a party? Lily shows off, doesn’t fall or rip her dress, and boom-pow, everyone gets drunk, dances and eats. What can go wrong?
We finally arrive, and the DJ plays a slow, classical track. Of course, no one wanted to pay for a string quartet if they would only play one song, so we all walk down the aisle and down an arch (meant to symbolize the transition from girlhood to womanhood) very ceremoniously.
Then we Waltz, there is a small speech, and the photographer keeps taking pictures.
After all that nonsense, finally the live band starts to play, and everyone starts shouting and dancing; not just the kids, but the older folk. Everyone, even people in their sixties. Everyone except me. The band’s speakers are taller than me, and I can feel those beats pumping inside my chest cavity. For some reason, people are not supposed to hear each other, yet they are supposed to mingle around anyway.
The sun has not set yet, but the party isn’t supposed to end until 2:00 AM. My escort duties are now over, but there are several hours left, and I am too old to pull a little kid excuse. For my sister’s quinces, I just said I was tired; my ma drove me home and I watched Jurassic Park and played Majora’s Mask instead of sitting with a bunch of hectic Mexicans.
Apparently that makes me the weird one. The freak. Huh. If I were a super-villain, I would want to be called The Mad Mexican; a boring guy who likes to read and can’t dance.
Run, run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Mexican Man!”
I am forced to stay and talk awkwardly with people I don’t know. My Spanish is terrible because I never practice it, and to my surprise, I am embarrassed rather than annoyed. I feel like shit, like I don’t know my people. Hell, are they even my people? This entire time, it is very likely that I’m the fucked up one.
There is an open bar, so I go there and nurse a rum and coke.
I can’t help but think that this is supposed to be Lily’s greatest accomplishment in life. Here, everyone celebrates her, but deep down all the traditional folk think she needs to get knocked up. Then she will be robbed of her chances of living her own life.
Listen, mothers can still go to college, but personally I think children are just little punks. They’re parasites; they grow inside of you, feeding off your energy, and they don’t give you nothing beneficial in return. Hell, they completely fuck up a woman’s immune system during pregnancy.
My point is that most people think that a quince is the way for a girl to say goodbye to the world because once she gets married, that’s it. No more big deals, only the ball and chain. It’s all downhill from here. The older women scare me because they always talk about their quinces that happened thirty years ago; they have nothing else to talk about, so they must anesthetize their sad lives with nostalgia. Nothing but slavery since then. Sacrificed to an Aztec god. Or the Spanish. My God, I am an asshole.
I’m half drunk when a teenage girl asks me to dance.
“I’m sorry, but I’m too drunk to dance,” I say, “I’m a lightweight, can’t move right now.”
“You’re too young for me.”
“What are you, seven years older? That’s not too young.”
“What do you think about the anthropological significance behind this party?”
“What do you think about the situation in Iraq?”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It is funny to me that I imply she hasn’t yet grown up and she does not catch it. I assume she will say nurse, or something with children.
“I want to be a nurse.”
I knew it!
“Or maybe a teacher or work at a daycare; something with kids.”
“Wait until you’re thirty to have kids,” I say, “You don’t need a man.”
“But I want one,” she says, trying to be flirtatious. I feel like a pederast just talking to her.
“No thanks,” I say, “But I don’t feel like dancing.”
She walks away frustrated. Maybe I was an asshole, but she really was too young. All this talk of honor and tradition, but so much dirty underhanded stuff going on.
Mexicans hate when you call them out on loving their culture so much while knowing very little about their history. They will argue about stuff they have no idea about for hours (just like people of other cultures), but the only difference is that we can get loud. Sure, maybe some of these people can talk about Zapata or Pancho Villa, but I doubt they have seriously studied their roots. Maybe I’m the most Mexican person here. Yeah, that must be it.
I look around and the little children are no longer running around. They are too tired and they sleep in folding chairs. Their parents don’t pay attention to them as they dance; kids are always a burden to Mexicans. Mexicans are always annoyed by their kids, and now is the time for social climbing.
Julio is drunk too, and he dances on the floor with an older woman. Nereo is dancing with young girls, unafraid of the implications, and the little gangster boy is whispering to a group of boys his age. Nobody wanted to dance with them.
Mexicans just do things. This is all just an excuse to party with a meaning paper-clipped to the edge; don’t argue, don’t question things; WAM! BAM! POW! Shut up and dance.
Maybe all these elements of madness are like ingredients a magic spell, an anti-curse. Most people here are certainly superstitious (myself included), and these witch ladies keep saying how little girls will grow up wrong if they don’t obey the rules; I suppose society has a magical way of fucking us all up. Whenever something bad happens, these witches usually just dismiss it as all part of God’s plan. Oh, you didn’t get into that school? Don’t worry, hija, it’s all part of God’s plan.
Some girls say they want their quince not to be a woman, but to be a Mexican woman. It’s a cultural celebration; the bastardization between Indian and European is a good thing; we wouldn’t exist without it, us Mestizos. Fine, I guess some good came out of it, but I’m a little worried anytime someone talks about celebrating culture because some Mexicans will do things one way and tell other Mexicans that they’re not being Mexican enough. Usually me.
I’ve always noticed how fresh immigrants come to the U.S. very skinny. They never got fat in Mexico because they didn’t eat that often. Sure, Mexican food is highly fattening, even now I fondly recall my mother’s tortillas made with lots of love and lots of lard (worth the eight years off my life expectancy), but it isn’t until they get to America, the land of opportunity, are they able to afford so much food. That’s when they balloon up a hundred pounds or so. The pink Las Vegas feel to this quince tickles at my conscience, and I wonder if we are getting fat. Then again, who am I to judge anyone? What authority do I have on anything? This is America; people can do whatever the fuck they want. Why? Because America, that’s why. American’s don’t think, they just do things.
Wait, that wasn’t right. Or was it?
But, I suppose poor parents want to give their kids the flash and flair they never got when they were young. That’s nice, but it’s also how people get spoiled and entitled. It’s how people believe in fairy tales. It’s also to show off, otherwise how did my cheapskate Pa get dragged into paying for my sisters’ quinces? Ma may be scary, but not scary to Pa.
Shit, I don’t even know what it’s like to be a teenage girl, so what do I know? One girl I knew told me how her parents locked her up at home and wouldn’t let her go out. Her mother kept newspaper clippings of local rapes and murders to keep her in fear; she said that the entire family had to sleep in the same bed so no one could sneak out. This went on until she graduated and left for college. On the other hand, had she brought home a twenty two year old gangbanging drug dealer who spoke good Spanish and worked a good menial job to meet her mother, well that would be muy bueno. Maybe a quince really is an introduction to society.
Mexicans confuse the hell out of me, but no one else seems to be confused, or care that nothing makes sense. This is madness. This whole damned party is madness, but Lily puts it to me very simply.
“You know what’s worse than wearing a tiara and fancy dress in front of everyone?”
“Not wearing a tiara and fancy dress in front of everyone.”
“Makes sense to me,” I say, “I always regret that I never wore a tiara and fancy dress in front of everyone.”
As I say this and notice her expensive dress, I hope that Lily likes the taste of government cheese until she gets into college. Damn the Spaniards for destroying our culture. Maybe if our history was better documented we could know who were are and not be lost in the search of our roots. I want to blame America, too, but I am too American. I love this country. I love Coca-Cola, McDonalds, the first amendment; I even liked George W. Bush. Say what you want about his politics, but the man could dodge a shoe; if a country this fucked up and eclectic can last, anyone can make it. The American Dream.
In fact, everyone is American; Mexicans assimilate, but American invades other countries. Not literally (unless you’re in the Middle East) but they send the culture. Hollywood, Disney, Batman/Superman/Spider-Man. America is everywhere, we already rule the world. Hey, I instantly affiliated myself as American. Yes!
Then again, I am a typical Mexican, because Mexicans talk more shit about Mexicans than anyone else.
Lily is worried that this expensive party is a way for her parents to bait her into God’s plan.
“It’s like I owe them now,” she said, “I have to do what they say, otherwise I’m spitting in their faces. I can’t be me anymore; I have to be their daughter.”
“Get thee to a nunnery.”
Fun fact; the Spanish claimed that quinces were once the times when girls had to choose between becoming potential mothers, or servants of God.
“I’m drunk. You can ask me stuff, but it won’t make any sense. Have fun, worry about all that shit later.”
“God, you sound so Mexican.”