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The Summer of Dancing and Wacky

Written & Narrated By Rhode Island Writer Betsy Miller


               He is loud and boisterous, energetic in the way only a 15 year old boy can be, jumping on fence posts and running down the ramp which is chained off for no entry down to the small row boat tied to the dock on the river basin downtown, which he then gets in, and she follows him to sit beside him for a photo to be posted on Instagram. 

               He is sweet and happy, and cute, yes, we must admit that he is cute, despite the haircut which has no real style but is really just a long floppy mop sitting on top of his head with the sides shaved so the hair does not extend down his neck, and he makes her smile and laugh, endlessly, silly and funny.

               She chose him for her partner to dance for her quinceañera, and then for her cousin’s quinceañera.  All of a sudden, at almost 15, there was a boy in her life, and she gave him the nickname Wacky.  He had never had a nickname, he said, and he liked it, not the least bit offended in any way, even when everyone else in the quinceañera court started calling him Wacky too.

            She is sweet and happy, and beautiful, yes, everyone says that she is beautiful, with gorgeous, luxurious hair which falls down her back in long curls, which she desperately wanted to flat iron for the party and have it fade out in an ombre style, getting lighter down the length to where it was bleached out blonde at the bottom, but her mom and half-sister objected and made her dye it back dark brown again and styled in carefully coiffed curls so she wouldn’t look too old for a 15 year old’s coming out party, and she makes him smile and laugh, endlessly, silly and funny.

               She grew up as an only child, even if she has two grown half-sisters, and she used to always think of herself as shy, but she isn’t really, because what it really is is an awkwardness about her identify which is bicultural and bilingual, and sometimes it is hard to know how to be when you have options like that, but he doesn’t even speak Spanish and still he says he is a Guat just like her.

               He went to every dance practice, all summer long.  He went on the escapade by some of the members of the quinceañera court to a late movie at the mall downtown, for which most of the teenagers did not receive parental permission first, leading to some mild punishments being doled out by some of the parents.  He went to Six Flags on her actual birthday day, and he went on every ride with her, winning a stuffed animal he gave to her and buying her a superhero cape.

               She has come of age, become a young lady, a senorita, a miss on her way to being a Mrs., because really, quite literally, that is what the quinceañera ceremony is all about, what it is a celebration of, what it is announcing to the friends and family of the parents of the Princess of the court.  She is not allowed to be alone with him or any boy, not even just to go inside her own house for a drink.  She is not ready to be a Mrs., that much is clear to everyone including her and Wacky, even if her mom had her first child at 15 and her 15 year old cousin in Guatemala is pregnant. 

               He doesn’t want any kids until he is maybe 27, he says.  Her parents do not need to worry about their relationship, she says.  She is teased about kissing him but replies no, they are good the way they are, hugging and snuggling, sitting side by side in the backseat of the car watching the movie “Coco” on a cell phone, very innocent really, this teenage exploration of the line between friendship and something more still unexplored.  How long can they go on this way?  The messages they are getting from all sides are mixed and conflicting. 

               15 year old hormones constrained by cultural norms and cultural norms saying go with it at 15, in two languages, in two countries, with different generations, different expectations, different dreams, different goals, different opportunities not to be missed by making the wrong choices at such a young age in the US, not in Guatemala, and certainly not in the place or era of coming out parties to present girls ready for marriage to the sons of the local barons at 15.

               He is the son of a woman who works in a factory and a man who drives a delivery truck.  She is the daughter of a woman who works in a factory and a man who does construction work.  All of the parents came to the US without papers, and the quinceañera and Wacky were born in Providence two months apart.  The parents grew up hard, in the midst of poverty and war, deprivation and dreams.  Their children grew up carrying the burden of those dreams.

             She often feels caught between the two worlds, bouncing back and forth, comfortable in both but doubting her place in each at the same time, always on the margins, never mainstream.  He understands his mom speaking to him in Spanish, but he answers back and speaks only in English, and he seems perfectly ok with all of it, not the least bit worried about defining his identity ethnically. 

             She spent one glorious summer in Guatemala with her cousins, on her own at 12, riding a motorbike and going down to the river for cookouts.  He barely remembers visiting when he was six and doesn’t know any of his family there.  Cultural expectations have been imprinted on them by their parents, and while they may reject some of the old ways, the ritual of the quinceanera party has been embraced by the born in the US generation.  A peach colored gown with a wide skirt for her, a silver tux with matching peach vest and silver shoes for him, choreographed dances presented for the guests, and the father/daughter dance, all found their way to the Waterplace venue on the river basin downtown, in Providence.

           For one summer they danced together.  For one night, they lived a fantasy that she was a Princess and he was her Prince.  They danced in the middle of a circle of friends who were her honor court, and she sat on her throne and received a crown from her mom and a pair of high heels from her dad.  It was all beautiful, beautiful like she is.  It was transformative, a true rite of passage.  It was the end of a wonderful summer of dancing and Wacky,  and the start of so much more.





Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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