Here I am on my fifteenth birthday, dancing with my dad. I wish I could remember the song (Julio Iglesias' From a Little Girl to a Woman?). Yes, I am probably wearing electric blue eyeliner and no, I really couldn't fill out that dress, but you know what? It was 1987 and I thought I looked great!
You might be asking yourself, "Why the big blowout for your fifteenth birthday? Why not wait until the sweet sixteenth?" Perhaps I haven't mentioned that although I am American by birth location, I am Cuban, on both sides by blood. And any Cuban girl will tell you that number 15 is THE birthday. On your fifteenth birthday you get the big party, you have your portrait taken,and it is about as close as you get to your parents throwing you a wedding without actually getting married. No joke. It's a huge tradition, centuries old, probably.
Here's what wikipedia has to say about the whole thing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QuinceaÃ±era#Cuba
Now, I can be a pretty traditional girl and since the first fourteen years of my life had led me to this huge moment, I was pretty excited about the whole prospect of this party. But, because I am who I am, there were a few things I just wasn't going to have or do.
(1) A tiara...no way was I wearing one of those. I opted for some silk flowers tucked in my french twist. And yes, I had "claw bangs." Again, 1987 people!
(b) a giant pink ball gown (possibly paired with fingerless gloves)...absolutely not. The dress I wore was fairly simple and it was cream, which you might think is a bit bridal (especially since I picked it out of a bridal magazine), but I thought it was perfect. Please note the butterflies embroidered on the skirt...FANCY!
(iii) a court/ladies in waiting...no sir, I was not about to enlist a bunch of my friends to rehearse some choreographed dance every week and make them rent tuxes and what basically amounts to bridesmaids' dresses just because it was my birthday. I had already been there and done that for my cousin and, not to hold a grudge, but the boy she paired me up with had the most calloused hands I have ever held in my entire life.
It was my party, but as my mother pointed out frequently, my parents were paying for it, so there were some compromises. My dress was not pink...but EVERYTHING ELSE WAS. To quote Steel Magnolias "That sanctuary looks like it's been hosed down with Pepto Bismal." My mother enlisted her best friend Rosita (of the sassy attitude and Cuban Red hair) to handle the decorations, hence the pink centerpieces, pink favors (little plastic ballet slippers or fans with my name, the date and the phrase Mis Feliz Quinces printed on pink ribbon that you could pin to your clothes...seriously) and the arch of pink and white balloons where my pink and white cake AND my quinceneara doll were displayed (true story: that doll is one of the few things my sister was allowed to bring from Cuba in 1968 and we still have it. You can't argue with that, can you?). My mother and sister both wore pink dresses and my father and brother wore beige suits. My corsage was made up of fifteen tiny pink roses and it was the most beautiful, sweet smelling corsage ever produced. I kept it in the fridge forever. And yes, I had my portrait taken by Nene, the man who had been my family's official photographer since before I was born. I had a photo shoot at his studio, where many, many photos were taken of me in very, very dramatic poses (there are a couple I refer to as my Scarlet O'Hara look). They are all in an album at my mother's house and one is framed. OK, full disclosure: one of the portraits (the one my mother let me choose...again, compromise) is an 18x24 print in a very ornate gold frame that hangs in my mother's living room. It goes with the 18x24 print of my first communion photo, also hanging in a very ornate frame in my mother's living room and also taken by Nene.
I know all of this sounds like I was a very pretty princess when I was that age, but really, I wasn't. My party wasn't a small affair, but it wasn't a total blowout either. When I watch My Super Sweet Sixteen on MTV I am totally baffled, if not a bit sickened by the extravagance. Granted, I went to my share of fifteen and sixteen birthday parties in high school, and yes, some where fancier than my party, (some girls had choreography, some girls didn't. Some girls just had their portraits taken and had a slumber party instead) but nothing, nothing like what I have seen on this show. Seriously, getting 50 Cent to perform at your birthday party? Come on! Looking back now, I think the difference, aside from the amount of money spent, is that the parties were about our little community. My party was held at my parent's club, which was a hall that could be rented, but membership had its privileges. One of my mother's friends gave me the fabric for my dress as a birthday present. Another friend's gift to me was actually making the dress (let's call it Cuban couture, shall we?). My Uncle Congo owned a restaurant, so he and his family pretty much donated the food. One of my siblings' high school friends was a DJ, so he spun the tunes for dirt cheap. See what I mean? It was kind of the equivalent of when Mickey Rooney says to Judy Garland in one of those Andy Hardy musicals "I know! Let's put on a show in the barn!" and then everyone pitches in where they can. Nice, right?
My party, and the parties my friends had, were really about having a good time, celebrating the fact that we were becoming young women and hanging on to our parents' traditions out of love and respect for what they had sacrificed to bring our families to the States. And yes, they were about eating great food and dancing all night and watching our parents get loose with a few drinks to join us on the dance floor. Not just the parents, actually. Someone put a certain uncle in charge of guarding the booze so that the older kids would not end up drinking. Long story short, my party was the one where they had to stop the music and make an announcement about all the underage drinking that was going on...now, that was memorable.