Monday, September 03, 2007

Estos seis o quince años

Six years ago, I walked past Boston City Hall and noticed a huge crowd outside, cheering speakers, passing out literature, and waving signs, banners, and flags. Everyone was speaking a language I recognized as Latin-based, but couldn't place. So naturally I wandered among the crowd until I figured it out. It took me about ten minutes to recognize the Puerto Rican flag. Sadly, I did not recognize the language. The inflection is totally different, it's a little faster, and some of the consonants are varied.

After having spent the past month in the old 'hood, and readjusting to Mexican Spanish rhythms, it's now jarring to re-enter the east coast, where when someone assumes you’re Latina, they assume you’re Boricua. I'll adjust. Which is good, because I just found the place where I'll be getting some of my groceries; it's strangely the "Asian and Hispanic Market" six blocks away, and after the clerk and I exchanged basic conversational pleasantries in Spanish (he started it when I walked in) I had to switch to English and head for the half of the store that contained soy milk, racha sauce, and pancit (although I did grab some Tapatio sauce too). It was the verbs, as usual, that messed me up.

Speaking of recognizable rhythms, Quinceañera was a cute movie. Fourteen-year-old Magdalena becomes pregnant shortly before her quinceañera and has to go live with her gay outcast cousin and elderly great-uncle.

One of the themes of the movie was gentrification: the story takes place in Echo Park, and throughout are scenes or snapshots of how the neighborhood is changing. There's the uncle, who's been selling champurrados forever and has become a neighborhood legend, and there are the men in the renovated house who throw dinner parties in their hot new neighborhood and "love their Latin men." The characters are all very real, especially the teenagers and the way they talk and act around each other. The adults, though, are all a little stock-type and one-dimensional: the quiet but understanding mother, the accepting grandfather figure, the overbearing religious father.

There's also an underlying irony about the quinceañera celebration that is supposed to signify Magdalena's entry to adulthood: getting pregnant and thrown out and having to look for an apartment and deal with a loser boyfriend spurred her along to adulthood long before the big birthday.

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