Niñitas This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

September 12, 2008
A girl I’d seen twice before click-click-clicked her way ­into a seat next to mine, kissing my father, younger sister, and me on the cheek. Her name was Luz.

The music began. In Hispanic church, there isn’t a choir filled with old ladies or kids who can’t sing and a bunch of depressing organ music. Instead, there’s a band with guitars and drums and keyboards.

“Dis is so sad,” Luz stage-whispered to me. “I can’t believe it. Shoot! Next spring it’ll be mine, and den next it’ll be Kelly’s and den is gonna be ya sistuh’s! Damn. And den we won’t be like dose little girls playin’ and havin’ fun n’ stuff.”

I saw a shimmery blue object ­appear in the doorway. As it loomed closer, everything came together. There was my cousin, thin and pretty in her sky-blue Quinceañera dress. Blue eye shadow was brushed generously around her eyes. Her hair was pulled up in an intricate ’do, with cheesy black ringlets hanging down.

My sister poked me hard on the shoulder and said, “Why don’t you ever do anything with your hair? It looks so bad.”

I never really had a special day like my cousin. I never had that traditional slippers-to-high-heels transition. For my Quinceañera I got a bunch of my friends together and went to a karaoke place. I guess you could call it a Quinceroke. But how do you ­explain that to relatives? They kept asking me when I was actually having mine. “It’s not too late,” they said. “You can still have a Sweet Sixteen!”

The cousins took a ride in the limo to some park by a lake to take Quin­ceañera photos. As I climbed into the limo in my green peasant dress (a big contrast to my cousin’s frilly one), my dad warned me, “No wine, Melissa!” I told him I’d try my best. The limo driver grunted, took a swig of his Snapple, and said, “Not until latuh. Heh, heh.”

I was the self-proclaimed DJ in the limo. At first everyone bopped around wildly, saying things like, “I’m so psyched to partay!” But after five minutes they stopped and awkwardly tapped their fingers on the leather seats, nodding their heads. The music, meanwhile, was still at its loudest.

The corny photos in the park included the Quinceañera looking off into the distance while sitting on a bench, looking off into the distance while holding onto a flowery tree branch, and looking off into the distance with a lake in the background.

The party itself was actually fun. I was a little scared to dance, afraid I’d make a fool of myself in front of these people who danced the merengue and the bachata with such fluency and carelessness. I was, metaphorically, a native speaker who shamefully did not know the language and was afraid of stumbling over the steps.

Luz helped though. She dragged me out onto the dance floor, saying, “Nobody’s lookin’ at you anyways. Jus’ move your hips. Das right, gurl. You got it!” I greatly admired her confidence and her willingness to get everybody dancing.

I guess there were some cute boys, but they were not exactly my type. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t theirs. My cousin later confessed to me how she had never dated a white boy and she thought it was weird to date anyone outside the Latino community. She would say things like, “Every time I listen to him on the radio he sounds so white” and “You guys are gonna have to teach my friends to dance. They’re white.”

I began to get frustrated. Each time she said something like that, I felt more alien in my surroundings. I don’t dress the way you do. I can’t dance the way you do. I don’t talk the way you do. I listen to different music. I date white boys. I don’t shake babies up and down and whisper, Ya, pobre, ya.

So what does that make me?

We went to my cousin’s house for a sleepover after her party. The other cousins had gone downstairs to enjoy the remains of the six-layer cake, but I stayed in the bedroom with her.

She had changed out of the tight princess dress, and was now hugging her knees in a large purple T-shirt and shorts. The only things left were the layers of blue eye shadow and the intricate ’do resting on her head like a sleeping woodland creature.

She asked me to take the bobby pins out. We had not had many moments alone for a while. Even on the dance floor, when we were dancing and holding onto the tips of our fingers, we had averted our gaze from each other.

We did not share a deep conversation. We were not nostalgic for times when we were young and silly and oblivious to the changes that life and simple ­geography would bring us. We did not hug or cry.

We shared polite small talk. The usual “So, how’s your boyfriend/school/friends” – topics you don’t ­really care about.

What I remember, though, is taking each of the 35 bobby pins out of the complicated up-do with patience and care. This was my duty, my calling as a cousin. I was here for her for this reason and this reason alone. And I’d better do the job right.

She thanked me when I finished and ruffled her tan, skinny fingers through her Colombian hair I had always envied. I inherited the kind of hair that takes all day to dry and two hours to tame.

I made a face at the huge pile of pins lying next to her foot. She laughed.

I can still make her laugh.

It took a game of never-have-I-ever – or as Luz called it, “da fingers game” – for us to really get to know each other. And even then, my cousin felt more comfortable around the others. While she poured her heart out to us without a second thought, I refrained from telling them anything except for a stupid, pointless story about an unrequited crush.

I fell asleep next to her. I had been sitting on the couch for most of the night, and she had been on the floor. But I fell asleep next to her.

I am not defined by my Quin­ceañera. I’m still in the transition from girl to woman (like that awful Britney Spears song) but I do not need a party. I’m Guatemalan and Colombian, but I do not fit a stereotype. Nor do I feel the need to. I’m kooky. Strange. My hair is hopeless. There are many times when I feel completely out of place.

But I do not need a party.

We grew up together. She was my first friend. My dad would have to drag me kicking and screaming from her house.

And there I was, snuggled close to her, this girl I had grown so far apart from: my cousin at the end of her very special day, the heavy makeup washed from her face, and her beautiful hair in a messy bun.

The sun was stealthily making its way onto the horizon, letting us know that the night we had spent together was coming to a close.

Her eyes were shut, and my eyelids were growing heavier by the second. It doesn’t matter who you are when you’re asleep. .

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 9 comments. Post your own now!

xAllegria said...
Nov. 29, 2010 at 7:00 am
"It doesn't matter who you are when you're asleep". Best sentence ever :)
LastChapter said...
Oct. 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm
i really loved this one. it had depth and feeling, but it didn't go on and on about how you "equally loved both nationalities" or whatever. sometimes when people write about this kind of stuff, they're so afraid of hurting everyone's feelings that their finished piece is not their own. i'm glad you could keep true, and it showed.
alwayskelley This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 26, 2010 at 6:04 pm
i hope me and my cousin never grow apart! we're besties!
SmileySunnyD This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 26, 2009 at 5:36 pm
Love it! It's so cool how you can write so casually about a different culture. Some people just go on and on about little things that go on in different cultures
reachingforit10 said...
Dec. 1, 2009 at 3:26 pm
I loved this - it was like I was there with you going through what you were going through.
mensa4life said...
Oct. 17, 2009 at 11:18 pm
i could relate to this aloth i had almost the same experiance with my cuz at her qince. we had grown apart so much and even though we were from the same place i feel like an outsider when shes around. but i luv her and that will never change.
Salta3 said...
Dec. 22, 2008 at 5:36 pm
I enjoy your voice throughout this piece. There is a truth here that feels natural, not forced.
Pookoma said...
Dec. 12, 2008 at 12:03 am
I liked you xanga version better but this is still awesome :D
tweedle dee said...
Dec. 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm
this was good, i wish i had a girl cousin my age. my only cousin anywhere near my age is a guy, wich wouldnt be too bad cept he's self centered and rude, but i dont have much to choose from! lol you are so lucky, and great writer!
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