In the Rio Grande Valley, a quinceañera was the most important party a kid could ever have. Not even weddings were treated with such a militaristic approach. Planning my little sister Alyssa’s quince was quickly turning into a three-ring circus, and she was more than ready to be the star of the show.
Today’s act: the first try on of the dress.
“Should we have a theme?” Alyssa asked as we sat in the back seat of our mom’s Altima on the way to the Sewing Box. It was the tried-and-true dress shop in San Benito, smack dab in the middle of Sam Houston Road near the railroad tracks; both my older sister, Veronica, and I had gotten our quince dresses there, so of course Alyssa had to get hers there too. She must have tried on a dozen of them before settling on this one, and now she was going to get to see it, fancy turquoise beading and all, for the first time.
Our mom was driving, so Veronica turned around to face us. “Shouldn’t you have thought about that before you bought the dress?” She raised a perfectly plucked and filled eyebrow; she was twenty-five going on forty and went to the University of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences, the cosmetology school in Harlingen, one town over, so her looks of disapproval were often accessorized with sharp winged liner and flawless lash extensions.
I paused the new Cuco album I was listening to and took out my headphones. “Themes for quinces are sooo tacky though.”
“I thought your cousin’s theme was kind of cute,” Mom noted defensively, tilting her head to glance at us in the rearview mirror.
“Her theme was ‘pink,’ Mami. A color can’t be a theme,” Alyssa insisted.
The rosary hanging from the mirror swung a bit as our mom changed lanes, the glint of the cross shining into my eyes and making me squint. I rubbed at them a bit, yawning. I’d been dragged out of bed at 9 A.M. on a Saturday for a dress try on that didn’t involve me. Alyssa hadn’t even picked out a dress for her damas yet, so Veronica and I were just here to be the family peanut gallery.
The damas’ dresses would surely be a debate all their own. Everything about Alyssa’s quince was turning into a spectacle, and it was just getting started. Alyssa had her court picked out. Her group of friends had already been suitably ranked so only her closest friends got to be a dama or chambelán (or just escort) and be paraded around with her on the day of her quince.
I shuddered just thinking about all the dresses Alyssa was going to make me try on when it was actually time for me to step into the dama role, zipping myself into the supportive middle sister suit that I’d worn my whole life.
“What would your theme even be?” I asked.
Alyssa shrugged, tossing her head to flick her too-long bangs out of her eyes. “I don’t know, Mardi Gras?”
Veronica stared at her incredulously. “Mardi Gras? You’ve never even been out of Texas, much less to Louisiana—”
“Not true! We’ve all gone to Mexico—”
“Does that even count as travel if all we do when we go there is see the doctor and go school shopping?” I asked.
“Te gusta la doctora,” Mom reminded me. “And things are too expensive here. Eighty dollars for a backpack. Pinche—” Our mom shook her head, catching herself, and I tried not to laugh as she continued, “And there was that time we went for a few days when your grandma was sick. That was kind of like a vacation.”
Alyssa squinted. “I don’t know if I’d call a rosary and a burial a vacation.”
“Well, we all took a big family photo after, so—”
“The point is,” Veronica said exasperatedly, “that you don’t need to have a theme.”
“Yeah, and what do you know about Mardi Gras?” I asked.
Alyssa glared at me. “I know we can wear masks, which would definitely be a great look for you.”
I swatted at her, and she whined, “Maaa, Maggie hit me!”
“You’re both being rude right now. Apologize to your sister, now, both of you.” Our mom couldn’t turn away from the road to glare at us, so Veronica did it for her; it was almost worse since she had Mom’s eyes and our dad’s thick eyebrows, the most intimidating combo imaginable.
I sighed and turned to Alyssa, who was slumped in her seat sulking. Baby. “Sorry I hit you.”
“Sorry I called you ugly.”
“It’s fine.” I shrugged. “We’re all ugly deep down inside.”
“Facts,” Veronica said, looking down at her phone. She was texting her boyfriend, CJ, judging by all the hearts in the message thread, so I leaned forward, craning my neck not so much to peek at the messages but just to invade her personal space. It worked, and she glared at me and pushed my head back, sending my beanie toppling off my head in the process. I slid it back on and reclined in my seat, smiling. “Seriously though, isn’t Mardi Gras culturally appropriative?”
“We’re Catholic.” Alyssa thought about it as we pulled up to the Sewing Box, our mom parking by the curb. “I don’t know. Besides, if we don’t have a theme, then the default theme is me, and honestly, can any of you think of a better theme than that on my birthday?”
Veronica looked over at me, and we both tried to hold in our laughter as Alyssa hummed, satisfied with our lack of answer, and undid her seat belt, jumping out of the car as soon as Mom unlocked it, yelling, “Come on!”
Alyssa might have been all jokes in the car, but in the Sewing Box, her gaze was trained sharply on the seamstress, more serious than I’d ever seen her in her almost-fifteen years of life. Alyssa hopped up to help her as she approached with the enormous garment bag. I probably should’ve helped, but I was very comfortable curled up on one of the chairs at the rickety, magazine-covered table in the showroom, phone in my lap.
Hey, it wasn’t my quince. I did my time, thank you very much.
As Alyssa disappeared into the dressing room with my mother, I turned back to the text debate I was having with my best friend, Amanda, about whether brand-new Converse could count as formalwear. I sent her a pic of the room.
Amanda: OMG exciting! I wish I could have my quince all over again
Copyright © 2022 by Andrea Mosqueda