Quinceaneras are coming-out parties: you go into the party a child, you come out an adult. Your drunken tio tells stories about shit he did when he was 15; you dance to songs you hated as a kid with people you hardly recognize; you step on people’s shoes because it turns out DDR isn’t a viable dance class. It is a ceremony that celebrates culture, community, the moment at which a person reaches the truest form of “personhood.” A quinceanera is a celebration of identity.
The Rio Grande Valley is typically written about as a cultural wasteland. It is dismissed as simply another bordertown—as a barrio,a slum and such. But “el valle” looks at a brown future. In my beautiful valley, we smile at each other when we are shopping for bargains downtown. We hold the door open for each other when we go into Rex to have some vegetable soup and pan dulce. In the valley we are all a family. Sure, like most families, we are all vastly different; we like different songs and wear different shoes, but most of us have a thing in common. We have all been to a quinceanera.
This past month, Tigersblood put together an event here called AQUINCENERA, a play on words using the Spanish word “aqui,” meaning “here.” Aquinceanera is the type of event that could only happen in the magical Valley. Bands with more abrasive narratives played loud, earth-shaking sets, but in between, out came a cumbia dance party each time. The Valley is the only place where a mosh pit can become a cumbia free-for-all in a matter of seconds.
I was lucky to be at this festival for both days. On day one, my heart was stolen and broken by McAllen indie sweetheart’s Pinky Swear; my ears were torn anew by Austin punks Criaturas; my dreams were manifested when RGV legends White Zebra came back to life. Day two was headlined by Prayers, the cholo goths innovators who represent a type of individuality very common in the Valley, and by the most important band in the world, Downtown Boys. There was love and pure magic in the air when Downtown Boys took the stage. Malportado Kids had just closed with a message so powerful that tears ran down my face: “YOU ARE ENOUGH!!”
The audience was looking around as if to try and affirm the magic they had just witnessed. As the sax began conjuring its chaos, and the drums synched up with the beating of our collective heart, the audience moved and we danced and sang along with Victoria Ruiz, who held hands with the people closest to her—she kneeled down and chanted “ONE ZERO ZERO” with such fury that we were overcome with emotions and responded by helping her in her battle cry.
As the set went on Victoria gave me a smile and asked me to join her on stage. As she spoke about culture and said really nice things about me, I stared out into a sea of familiar faces, all looking up at me and looking up at Downtown Boys, smiling and chanting my name. I remembered being 15 and contemplating ending life as a whole. I thought of how I rejected my mother’s and grandmother’s idea to throw me a quinceanera because I thought it would somehow make me less of what my culture viewed as a true man. I thought of being at my worst at 15 and I thought of the darkness. And so we danced in the dark.
Aquincenera was a celebration of identity and culture, of a place that has been called so many things by people who’ve never lived “aqui.” But aquinceanera was also my coming out party. Aquinceanera was me reaching my truest form of personhood. I yelled through a microphone while Victoria held my hand. I danced around while Joey smiled at me. I looked down and up and I swear I could see my father in the distance. I saw my friends singing my favorite song with me and the most important band in the world, and most importantly I saw the light in myself.