childhood

Throwback Thursday: My Sweet Sixteen-the Calm Before the Storm

Right off the bat I have to note this was meant to be an old-school reflection in the vein of the recent social media phenomenon of throwback Thursdays. Today is Friday. I kind of missed the boat on that one. That’s just how this week has been rolling.  I recently discovered something in the blogosphere referred to as a daily prompt. You receive early on in the morning a phrase that you are supposed to write about. It can be any random topic. It is sort of like receiving a mission impossible suitcase.  There is a bit of a grand thrill at being able to write about any topic on any given day. The other day, the daily prompt was Sweet Sixteen.  Being that I had come across the prompt at 11pm, I missed the opportunity to write on said topic that day.  Again, that’s how this week has been rolling. Despite missing that day’s writing opportunity, the phrase stayed with me running repeatedly in my head and so from my fingers I must let the sweet sixteen reflections drip down onto the keyboard.

The age of sixteen is a tumultuous time for any girl. It carries with it so much meaning and sets of responsibilities. For a Hispanic girl like myself from the South Bronx who was deeply ensconced in a private boarding school hundreds of miles away, turning sixteen was even more complicated.

In my neighborhood back in the Bronx, there was a new Hispanic group settling in. That of Dominicans. While I didn’t know much about the Dominican Republic, I “knew” this much about them: they loved Miami Vice fashion, they were boisterous and the girls celebrated something called a “Quinceañera”. It is something akin to a sweet sixteen but instead celebrates turning fifteen. I had no idea of the history of it but thought maybe it was related to the earlier menses onset you tend to see in Hispanic girls. Well, I didn’t think of it in such elegant terms. Either way, I knew I would not be having a quinceañera nor a sweet sixteen being that I was dirt poor and those shindigs can cost as much as a wedding. At that age, I already knew I would not be having a huge wedding (if one at all) when the time came.  Thus for me, in the Bronx, holding a sweet sixteen meant holding a status of local privilege and being a little less broke than those around the neighborhood.

Ironically enough, while I was at boarding school, I don’t recall anyone having a sweet sixteen celebration.  In the place where elites, old and new money alike, went to study there was no sweet sixteen party. Thus, everything I know about said celebrations I learned from television or the movie Sixteen Candles. John Hughes really provided me with grand insight into the lives of my fellow teens. Well, not so much the South Bronx ones but the overall American teenage landscape.

When I turned sixteen, I was at school seemingly far, far away from home. I had just found out that I would be spending my senior year of high school in Barcelona, Spain. I was excited and I was scared wondering what I had gotten myself into. I was getting ready psychologically to embark on the grandest adventure of my life to that point. I was truly going to be far away from my family. Because of my family’s poverty there was no way that they would be able to come and see me while there. I was really going to be on my own. I was taking another step towards being a cultural broker, ambassador of sorts. I was about to learn who I truly was and how resilient I could be and would have to be. I was going to get an acute sense of what it meant to be an “other” and how it felt to be reminded of it every day and waking moment. I was about to be a Hispanic woman in Europe singing and relating to Sting’s “Englishman in New York“.  The day I turned sixteen, I didn’t really celebrate it. I had exams to prepare for and take. I was getting all my school year aboard papers readied.  My family was in the midst of moving out of the Bronx and I would never return to live there.  That day, I got a cupcake, a goofy musical birthday card from my mother and a family phone call late in the day in which they all sang off-key. It was low-key and what I needed at the time.

My sweet sixteen was the calm before the storm.

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