When I signed up to teach in San Antonio’s primarily Chicano, inner-city high schools, I didn’t know that part of my teaching responsibilities would involve sponsoring my students’ Quinceñearas every month! Being a sponsor, or Madrina, at their Sweet 15 celebration meant that my name would be included on the opalescent, faux-wedding invitation as long as I financially sponsored some part of the Sweet 15 fiesta. Among the list of things I had to choose from, I learned that being the Madrina de los Zapatos was going to be the most my modest teacher salary could offer. Buying the debutant a pair of $20 Payless pumps, which promised to never see the light of day under the fifteen year-old girl’s oversized faux-wedding dress was my gift to each student who begged me to be their Madrina.
In Adriana Lopez’s anthology, Fifteen Candles, she says , “It doesn’t matter whether you were the only Latino family in town or if your neighborhood grocery had a fully stocked Goya food section, if you lived in the States, a quinceañera party affirmed your Latinoness.”
When I signed up to be an Amma (the maternal title our daughters use for me) one of our girls was freshly 14 and ready for a Quinceñera of her own. Big J stocked her bookshelf with Quinceañeara magazines, a full color scheme of what her 14 Damas (girls) and 14Chambelanes (boys) would wear in the royal court, and even had downloaded on her ipod the Salsa-Merengue-Cumbia-Hip Hop-Reggaeton Melody she planned to dance to. Baby K, who had five years to plan, was also learning what was to come for her Sweet 15. Our weekends were filled with visiting the Pulga (Mexican Flea-Market) in search for the perfect color of yellow taffeta Dama Dresses and Chambelan bow-ties, vests and cumber-buns. Also, we rummaged through various puestos where Mexican vendors sold varieties of home-made pastel-colored centerpieces mounted on mirrors, made of lace, glitter, plastic flowers glistening with acrylic water droplets on their petals, and obnoxiously sequined tiaras. Not only were we looking at purchasing Big J’s Payless pumps but Erika and I were about to embark on planning what started to feel like a mini-wedding! Our opinions of the Quinceañera started to evolve into something else as our wallets began to look smaller and and so did our budgets for the upcoming year. “Quincelandia” might not be all it was cracked up to be. (Adriana Lopez).
One evening, I told Big J that according to tradition, “the Quince rite of passage means you will be ready for motherhood!” The look on her face was priceless as her beautiful brown eyes almost popped out her her head. Her opinion of the traditionalQuinceañera quickly changed. In as far as her eyes could see, her future was a college dorm room and vacations around the world. Big J was not ready to be a mother and I was barely just becoming one after 30! Our non-traditional Lesbian home would soon be creating a new Quince tradition.
After a few family platicas, Erika, Big J, Baby K and I decided that La Quinceañera would trade her over-puffed dress and pastel pumps for a visit to New York City and most importantly the New York Public Library, which I told her had one of the largest book collections in the whole world. Big J reads almost two novels a week and loves all things antique and old. The quiet and dimly lit elegance of the NYPL would replace the elegance she once felt would be present at her “traditional” Quinceañera.
It is true that as a Lesbiana Amma and Mamì, we are creating our own family traditions and rites of passages. Instead of getting pregnant with a baby at 15, I can definitely say that Big J became impregnated with a larger view of the world and its opportunities available to her. Not only did we go to the breathtaking shelves of the NYPL, we ate cheesecake each night in Little Italy, visited several bookstores, NYU, CUNY, the Museum of Modern Art , and went ice skating in Central Park, but we did it all for as little as the price of renting out a dance hall on the Southside of San Anto!
On our last evening in New York City, Big J walked about 30 paces ahead of us down the escalator into the Metro station. I saw in her step a heavier stance, in her shoulders a higher posture, and in her movement a beautiful grace. WIthout our guidance, she confidently boarded the train and for a moment I imagined her walking down the church isle in the huge white dress she had her eye on when she was still planning the Quinceañera party. The little mirage quickly dissolved and there she was again, a young woman in her trendy skinny jeans and converse walking down the isle of the world. We are happy with our new Quinceañera traditions and our lovely daughter.
Little K is planning her Quinceañera trip for 2014! Vacation!