I experienced my first quinceanera last week. I don’t even know if that’s how the word is spelled, and before this school year, I didn’t even know what it was. I asked my students in 8th grade Language Arts, all of whom are Mexican/Latino/Hispanic (whatever the latest terminology is), and only two of them knew how to spell it. I have to take their word for it, because, as I say, I haven’t a clue.
Basically, it’s a big old party for a girl who’s turning 15. Well, not just any 15-year-old girl. Only a Mexican/Latino/Hispanic girl. White girls don’t get quinceaneras… they get trips and cash.
Sorry about that. I sometimes promote stereotypes, but only because so many expect me to do that. You see, I’m a conservative. Folks expect me to be racist.
But I’m not racist, not really – but I am a cracker – a white cracker, and I have come to embrace the term. I like crackers. They’re flavorful, crunchy, and they go well with things. I like to think that I go well with others.
Anyway, my fist quinceanera.
A friend of our daughter’s, a friend who happens to be Mexican genetically, had a huge birthday party thrown for her 15th. So there I was, in a big building decorated to the hilt, and filled to the hilt with Mexicans. A few crackers like me, but mostly Mexicans.
These folks are incredibly stylish, these Latinos. They like their music loud (who doesn’t?), and they drink a lot of Bud Light. I think the latter was due to the fact that the girl’s daddy had to pay for everything. Bud Light seemed an economically appropriate beverage needed to achieve the desired level of hilarity.
Also, I have never seen in all of my life better-looking cowboy boots than what I saw that night. All the colors of the nongay rainbow were represented. Plus some of the most fantastic turquoise, alligator-skinned, clops you have ever set eyes on. One guy in particular had a set of white boots with the pointy-toed ends reaching almost a foot beyond the normal length. Almost like an elf boot. Imagine a dark-skinned, black haired Legolas in jeans and a western shirt. Never seen anything like those boots. I don’t know how he could drive a car with those on.
Also, lots of cowboy hats, though I imagine bolero hat would be a better term. I made that up… I don’t know what a bolero is, but it sounds right. How about a pampas hat? Better. Let’s settle on that. They sure weren’t sombreros. The pampas hats were pulled low over dark hair and tight mustaches pointing down to open-shirted chests covered in golden, jeweled regalia. Think 1970’s clothing for a cracker.
I teach school in a building with about 85% Latino students. Before this stint, my exposure to Latino culture was limited to a trip to Juarez about 25 years ago, and a trip to Tijuana soon after that. There aren’t that many Mexicans up in the hills of Appalachia where I roosted as a boy. At least there weren’t before the invasion. Now, I don’t know.
Colorful clothes. My, but these people know how to dress up. So festive. I tell you, when the band was in full gear and the folks were dancing and the colors were flashing around me, I almost wanted to be a Mexican.
In my best Mexican accent forged from years of listening to Frito Bandito commercials, I leaned over and told my wife, a crackerette, “Call me Juan tonight, mi esposa bonita. I like eet.” I was ashamed that my shirt was a drab brown and my shoes weren’t pointed, and I had no pampas hat of my own.
Speaking of the band, man, they could play. The nice thing about being around Mexicans is that even when the thugs drive around town in their low riders with their flat-billed ball caps and over-sized wheels, their music blaring, it just sounds like very, very loud polka music. I think some old, hard of hearing Swedes from near here might actually enjoy it. Long live diversity.
But how the band played, and how they harmonized! I wanted to get up and tango and hustle and snap little bells in my fingers and wear a pampas hat and a colorful jacket and remember back to the juicy, warm sampapillos my mama would grind out on the stones near the fire in our little hovel in Chihuahua. I wanted to remember the dust and grime of the living my papa scratched out on the desert floor with a single, crippled burro, how my parents had risked all to splash across the Rio Grande for a better life for me, leetle Juan Bach.
I wanted all of this – this joie de vivre (that’s French… long live diversity) – as the band played. Everyone was so happy. All the band members’ suits matched in glittery silver sparkles as they sang Latino bliss to my white man’s heart. I come from western European stock. Fine, hardy folk, but few splashy colors, and not as much gaiety in dress and dance.
Alas, someone opened the door right in the middle of my revelrous reverie and let in the south breeze from the local meatpacking plant… the same plant that brought all these fine folks here in the first place. Reality set in. Alas, I am a gringo. One stout breath from a processing plant will kill many dreams, amigo.