Six and a half months ago, I became that age coveted by children throughout the United States: sixteen. After years of fighting to be the teenager, the sixteen year old in games of dress up, I finally was one. The age was exciting, but my party was a lot more low-key. In fact, the most memorable part was sitting in the kitchen with a few of my closest girlies, soaking our feet, and reading from First Kiss (and Tell). I ignored the stereotypes. I didn’t get a car. I didn’t even try for my license. Heaven forbid I put the time and energy into a party when I was too busy just trying to pass math. (Which by the way, I didn’t get my A-. I’m still bitter about that, Mr. Sparrowgrove.) Turning sixteen was just another birthday. An exciting one, (Yay! I can date boys! *insert eye roll please*) but still just a birthday. Not everyone sees their Sweet Sixteen like this though. Well, maybe in South America, because down here, we’re all about Sweet Fifteens.
Last Saturday, I went to a Quinceañera, or Sweet Fifteen birthday party. It was incredible. The hours of preparation it took to get me there, was a pretty good indication that this was going to be a huge party. My preparations started two days before, when my mom pulled out some of my older sister’s dresses for me to try on. Dresses that could easily be from any prom magazine. I however, have a completely different build from my very slender, shorter sister. Luckily, I have a giant family in Santa Cruz, and many cousins and aunts with many beautiful dresses and bodies more similar to my own. I must have tried on at least seven dresses before deciding on the one. By then, it was the day of the quince, and, with only hours to go, I showered, scrubbed, exfoliated and moisturized every last inch of me. I swear, since coming here, my feet have never been so clean. I gave myself a French manicure that actually didn’t look too bad, and painted my toenails a pretty pink. My hair was an absolute flop. For unknown reasons the front curled, but the back refused to relinquish its straight silky texture. Blast.
The ride there was the most nerve-wracking experience since my first debate sophomore year, when I was just about sick. My mom laughed and reassured me all would be fine. I’d have friends there, boys and girls. I was pretty. I had my cell phone. She’d come to pick me up at one in the morning. She’s very good at reassuring. I was still anxious about walking in alone. It was a big club, and lots of guys in suits outside, probably passing around a cigarette. Scary! Again, prepared as always, she dialed a number on her cell and a minute later, I had a friend outside, ready to escort me into the building. Thank heavens for Mama.
Then inside. Oh my freaking goodness. Where to start? Music was blasting, and on the dance floor kids were rocking out in short shiny gowns, and dark suits and ties. Along the walls were a dozen tables, where similarly dresses adults sat and gossiped over cups of coffee and chocolates. One wall was entirely devoted to food. There were mini empanadas, salteñas, and these strange little hamburgers. One table had a chocolate fountain with skewers for dousing strawberries and cookies in liquid goodness. All of the tables, in the negative space between dishes, were dotted with confetti and chocolates. A disco ball was spinning, as were multi colored lights. Looking up, a second story walkway was home to photographers and parents. A giant chandelier hung from the ceiling. The room was elegant. The moldings and framework spoke of older days, but the decorations brought in a much more modern flair.
I greeted the birthday girl and her family. Of course they looked wonderful. Her curls bounced happily under a tiara. After making the rounds, I sat and watched the dancing for a bit. A lot of the kids were younger than me, fourteen or fifteen, but there were some my age sitting around the edges. This is when Folklorico really comes in handy. No, not because I danced it out on that incredible dance floor! I was thankful for Folklorico because of the people I met through it. I walked out to dance near a girl in my dance group. Unbeknownst to me, that was quite the faux pas. I learned later in the evening, you only dance with a partner, never in a circle with just a group of friends. Again, my Folklorico ties saved me, as a fellow dancer left his seated friends and asked me to dance.
More and more people arrived as the night progressed. I changed partners three times, pleading exhaustion when I wanted to sit down and find a new partner. One of these times I was in the bathroom and saw a halo around my big toe, in blood! I was having so much fun, I didn’t notice the cut until it dried. That was the nasty part of the evening.
Around eleven thirty, many of the guests disappeared. Their absence stopped the others from dancing. We stood around the edges, nibbling food, and talking. I had no idea what was going on. Then the DJ changed the music to something soft and slow, and started to read from a paper. The Spanish confused me, but as my friend walked his sister down the staircase, pausing for pictures, I understood. It was like that moment in Cinderella. The men escort their partners down an elegant staircase and are announced like royalty. They walk the perimeter of the dance floor then wait for the next couple. This couple cleared another thing up for me. She, like the first girl, was in a metallic silver dress, he in a silver tie. These were the close friends of the birthday girl walking down the stairs, like bridesmaids. A dozen or so couples descended the stairs, and then the music changed again. There she was, the sweet fifteen princess, on the arm of her father. She had changed into a floor-length, poofy ball gown. They stopped for pictures, then walked the floor, stopping in front. Her mother, brother, and sister joined them. They were given drinks, I’m not sure of the kind. Her family spoke, she spoke. The music drifted into an acoustic ‘’My Heart Will Go On.’’ They set their glasses aside, and father and daughter began to dance. After a moment, her brother and sister joined them on the floor. He cut in, and danced with his sister, while his father danced with his younger daughter. A minute later, another couple cut in, then another, until all of the chosen men danced with the princess.
Later, regular dancing resumed, and she changed back into her short party dress. I left at 1:30am, but was told that they continued until three. More could be said about this incredible quinceañera, but really, that was the defining moment. I felt so privileged to watch this right of passage. The family looked so proud for their daughter, their sister. I admit, it was the family element that got to me. Their family made me think of my own, and of my other home, and that was bittersweet. Still, I was so happy to go. This was her coveted age, and she was nice enough to share it with me.