Carrying the Border with You: Recalibrating Chicana/o Spaces from a Legacy of Dislocation

by Michael P. Moreno and Kristin C. Brunnemer

<1> Los Angeles has long been known for its sprawling freeways, gentrifying landscapes, and loose networks of debilitating spheres partitioned by decentralizing freeway systems and deterritorialized communities. Caught within the historical, cultural, and political ebb and flow of the region’s transformations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the Chicana/o community has been exiled to and marginalized in these spaces, the city generating often a spatial incarceration of the Chicana/o to contest and re-inscribe Los Angeles as a matrix for Chicanismo. This article explores how central characters in Helena María Viramontes’ 2007 novel Their Dogs Came with Them and the 2006 film Quinceañera reconstruct Chicana/o identities within the ideological dust and rubble of marginalization. Whereas Their Dogs Came with Them challenges common conceptions of the urban topography of Los Angeles by showing how the spaces of “los barrios,” spaces forced beneath the shadow of freeways, offer sacred and secular havens among the memory of home, the silent cemeteries, and the graffitied streets that generate a borderlands of community resistance and redesign, Quinceañera demonstrates how Chicana/os are forced to reestablish their cultural landscape to resist gentrification, capitalist mores, and familial/cultural sexual expectations. In these texts, the protagonists resist spatial and capitalist exile by creating their own sites of location, spaces wherein they can defy marginalization. As a result, these works demonstrate Pat Mora’s theory of napantla, or “place in the middle” (5) as well as Cherríe Moraga’s call for a Queer Aztlán, both made possible through the narratives within these Chicana/o communities.

<2> Utilizing a cross-disciplinary approach through the interpretive lenses of border and spatial theories, literary analysis, and film studies, this article examines both the history of Los Angeles as a site predicated on the marginalization of the Mexican American, as well as, and quite paradoxically, a space whereby Chicana/os have designed a nexus of interstices that create paths of resistance. Viramontes’s novel accomplishes this by contesting the freeways that severed and quarantined thriving Chicana/o communities, alongside the divisions of femininity from masculinity such as in “Antonia’s/Turtle’s” character performance of gender. Likewise, Quinceañera does so by challenging and dismantling the divisions of men into machismos or mariconcitos; women into virgins, mothers, or whores; and homes as either residing in suburbs of prosperity or barrio wastelands. As a result, both texts question the capitalist impulse that relegates culture to the sidelines and regulates identities within this economic system. These texts further serve to reconstruct a Chicanismo based not on exile and fixed identity politics, but, rather, on a landscape of permeability and interstitiality that allows for the transgression of rigid definitions of race, gender, sexuality, and class.

<3> What differentiates Chicana/os (or Mexican Americans) from subsequent minority populations who have historically participated in the development of Los Angeles is the fact that Chicana/os have undergone a “psychohistorical experience” of “subjugation” by the white dominant culture within “what the indigenous peoples considered to be their own land” (Rodriguez 69). As a colonized community disempowered by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Mexican Americans living in Southern California and the American Southwest have been forced to reconcile the loss of home and cultural identity since the mid-19th century. As such, for 21st century Chicana/os, Los Angeles has become a nexus of borderlands and border criss-crossings. The city is an urbanized suburban kaleidoscope that grafts multiple, competing cultures and histories into a heterotopic system which often generates violence while paradoxically providing a vehicle through which to critique this violence. Both Their Dogs Came with Them and Quinceañera illustrate how exterior and interior systems of power and hierarchy not only disrupt Chicana/o cultural discourses, but also provide opportunities of resistance for the marginalized to create other spaces in which to redirect the community and cultivate new discourses outside of the dominant narrative. In his work “Of Other Spaces,” Michel Foucault argues that a heterotopic site is an other space, one “that lies outside of all places and yet is actually localizable” (352). Likewise, such places, or “heterotopologies” as Edward Soja maintains, are distinct in and of themselves as separate sites and can serve as micro-reflections or embodiments of the larger cultures which produced them while acting as prolific insights into the system and ordering of such cultures (13-15). Comprised of a matrix of freeway systems that create an intricate landscape of borders and borderlands, Los Angeles becomes the ultimate sub/urban heterotopia. When read as a borderland, this postmetropolis functions as a heterotopic site, a truly vibrant amalgamation of spaces that reveal the simultaneous co-existence, collision, and coalescing of cultures and communities (Morales 24). Moreover, Los Angeles has become synonymous with Chicana/o activism while it remains as an interstice from which a broader Latina/o discourse, identity, and culture can be recalibrated and then rearticulated. Key spaces in both this novel and film reveal this process.

<4> With its unparalleled archipelago of high and low density dwellings; the circuitous anatomy of freeways; and Disneyfied developments of bungalows, stuccoed courts, and gated communities; Los Angeles is the foundation of heterotopic spatial re-ordering because of its inter-suburban design, thus making it the quintessential “suburban metropolis,” (156) according to Robert Fishman’s Bourgeois Utopias (1987). Unlike the dark tenement rows and skyscraping stone, steel, and glass monuments of traditional American cities such as New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia, the urban spaces of Los Angeles are marked by the proliferation of suburban neighborhoods. “Drive from the ocean to Los Angeles,” D.J. Waldie writes in Holy Land (1996), his memoir of growing up in Lakewood, CA, “and you’ll stay on the same grid of streets. The drive passes through suburb after suburb without interruption….What later redeemed the land—and determined its limits—are the subdivision maps filed in the county recorder’s office. Every map is a fiction. Every map offers choices. It’s even possible to choose something beautiful” (46-7). In its pursuit and privileging of “the universalization of suburbia” (Fishman 157), Los Angeles and its ceaselessly sprawling environs throughout Southern California have come to embody a loose network of incarcerating domestic spheres partitioned by decentralizing freeways systems and deterritorialized communities. Not all (Los) Angelenos have been able “to choose something beautiful” in deciding where and how they can live in this suburban metropolis (157). Caught within the historical and political ebb and flow of Los Angeles’s geographical and economic transformations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the Chicana/o community has been at the forefront of being devalued through violent civic policies of spatial incarceration, economic exile, and cultural erasure. This is especially evident in East Los Angeles during the second half of the 20th century, the location and time in which Viramontes herself was coming of age.

<5> Viramontes’ Their Dogs Came with Them takes place in East Los Angeles during the late 1960s/early 70s when pivotal events such as the widespread student walkouts and the anti-Vietnam War protests, known as the Chicano Moratoriums, were generating a political identity for Mexican Americans. This space “emerged as the epicenter of the Chicano Movement, where local residents had organized themselves against historic patterns of inequality that denied socioeconomic mobility to Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants” (Avila 835). The novel focuses, however, on a handful of mostly young Chicanas, whose worlds are being intersected by the massive freeway construction projects tearing up their homes and disintegrating their families. Although not all of the characters know each other personally, their lives criss-cross throughout the neighborhood underscoring a loose network of community slowly disintegrating through freeway construction and hyper-police presence, surveillance, and containment. Avila notes, that, beginning in the 1960s,

freeways encroached upon East Los Angeles, dislodging tens of thousands [of Chicana/os] and isolating a growing concentration of racial poverty from the rest of the city. While rail lines and the concrete channel of the Los Angeles River had already cleaved Boyle Heights from downtown Los Angeles in the early decades of the twentieth century, the Interstate era enforced even more formidable barriers, as if to underscore the barrio’s geography of utter difference… [In short, the four] freeways [would] contain or eradicate working-class, racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods, usually coded as “blight” in planning discourse. (833) [1]

<6> Codifying such neighborhoods of the city as “blight” gave city planners and politicians the will and authority to remove the impoverished and non-white regions of the urban landscape by deeming them as economic risks and approving massive engineering projects to ensure that such districts would remain politically lifeless. Caught within this urban vortex of environmental racism, Viramontes’ characters journey throughout the novel overlapping past memories of spaces with current conditions of streets and residences in an attempt to piece together some semblance of a community to which they once belonged.

<7> While the Chicano Movement roars through their streets and schools, Viramontes’ characters find themselves along the edges of East LA’s zones of urban decentralization and cultural trauma, their lives reduced to shadows beneath freeways and dislocated geographically and psychologically by a growing sense of time- and placelessness within this postmetropolis. “Postmetropolitan space, in its capacity to transform and absorb communities,” according to Dale Pattison, “is constantly in a state of growth and transition” (121). And yet, it is still possible to remain a stranger within a heterotopic realm such as suburban Los Angeles, cut off from what has been familiar in a rapidly transforming space. Thus, a continual challenge for the denizens of East LA is to apprehend the changing systems within their spaces, whether they be social constructions of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, geography, or psychology. Nevertheless, “[p]eople are learning to live in heterotopia and must constantly develop new survival strategies,” according to Alejandro Morales, if they are going to transcend the chaos such a space is capable of creating in the everyday experience (24).  Writing about living in the suburban heterotopia of the greater Los Angeles basin, Morales argues:

It is an unending, unfinished process of continuous movement, of ceaseless change, of always becoming, of perpetual transformation, complicated by a cryptic omnipresent uniformity. […] The inhabitants of heterotopia are rendered strangers to each other and to themselves. […] Life in the chaos of heterotopia is a perpetual act of self-definition gradually deterritorializing the individual. [In the process, the] individual becomes an ambiguity. (24)

<8> As such, displaced Chicanas like Viramontes’s Ermila, Chavela, Turtle, or Tranquilina must seek out new systems and methods for recalibrating themselves, the neighborhood, and the family in the midst of this ambiguity. However, the challenge becomes creating new lexicons that can effectively negotiate the political, economic, and traumatic spatial dislocations continuously redefining the Chicana/o community.

<9> Viramontes’s characters attempt to secure fragments of individual and collective memory as a way of actively protesting the rapid disintegration of their community as the freeway matrix slowly emerges. These concrete leviathans disrupt the community not only through an economic erasure of domestic destruction, but also via a social silencing of family and friends who are no longer able to maintain a shared narrative exchange of neighborhood identity. As a postmetropolitan palimpsest, “[f]reeways become a divisive, but also a uniting, force: wielding a disjointed, fragmented narrative that emphasizes discontinuity in the urban environment and the rupturing of human connection” (Avila 840). Recreating a community and its spaces not only in the mind but also in physical form becomes challenging for the characters since freeways rescript and transform the places and paths once familiar to us. Recovering a cultural narrative, then, is the only way a colonized community is able to retain any semblance of voice and visibility, be it individual or collective, in the presence of unrelenting forces.

<10> The regeneration of memory becomes an important narrative vehicle through which characters are able to mark and chart their own movement and development. Viramontes opens her novel with one of the characters (Ermila Zumaya) recalling a visit, as a child ten years earlier, with her elderly neighbor Chavela on the eve of her house’s city-mandated termination. Ermila recalls how Chavela’s simple blue stucco house was a quiet place of refuge from her own scolding and loveless grandparents and a vantage point from which to witness her neighborhood slowly tear apart:

She looked out at her own house and all the other houses on Grandfather’s side of First Street; the houses on the saved side were bright and ornamental like the big Easter eggs on display at the Segunda store counter. Some of the houses had cluttered porches with hanging plants or yards with makeshift gardens…In a few weeks the blue house and all the other houses would vanish just like Chavela and all the other neighbors. (Viramontes 12)

<11> Ermila’s memories come back to her as the intimate marks and script of a Chicana/o cultural narrative that still appears somehow despite the freeway-as-postmetropolitan-palimpsest invasion. [2] The task of remembering is further underscored by what Ermila recalls from Chavela’s warnings as the old woman slowly packs her belongings and readies herself to enter a forced exile beyond her neighborhood.

<12> Chavela herself had feared that once she began to forget things, both the small and the great, they would slip into a chasm and render her invisible and irrelevant. As a witness to over seventy-seven years of her community’s history, Chavela fears that a larger cultural identity and history is more at stake than just her own social death:

The old woman had taped scribbled instructions all over the walls of the house…I need to

remember, Chavela had told the child…It’s important to remember my name, my address, where I put my cigarillo down…or how the earthquake cracked mi tierra firme, mi país, now as far away as my youth…I’m trying to tell you how it feels to have no solid tierra under you.” (Viramontes 7)

<13> Chavela’s home, and her neighborhood by extension, is a sanctuary that holds the artifacts of her and her community’s collective identity. Her home, like the other homes that will be destroyed by the freeways, is the last vestige of a “solid tierra” (7) that provides a point of reference, security, and empowerment through which to articulate a Mexican American distinctiveness and collectiveness. For Chavela, the fear of losing one’s house is only exacerbated by the fear of losing community. Indeed, space itself is revealed to be a language used to articulate not only the material manifestations surrounding the characters, but also the social relationships people forge in our varied communities. In his celebrated study of spatial theory entitled The Production of Space (1991), Henri Lefebvre posits that “[e]very language is located in a space. Every discourse says something about a space (places or sets of places); and every discourse is emitted from a space” (132). Losing this space means losing the very language that articulates community, identity, and history. Ermila, and her young Chicana friends, will grow up in an East Los Angeles whose links to its past have been severed and whose economic opportunities will be severely limited because of the debilitating position into which the freeways have placed them and the rest of their community. This only makes Chavela’s desperate advice and Ermila’s sustained memory of it even more important.

<14> While the freeway can create these walls and barriers that displace people and eradicate cultural continuity for them, those who benefit from the open and accessible mobilization freeways provide are complicit in the community’s destruction. Those who accelerate through the broken yards and homes of the exiled neighborhood remain unaware of, or even unconcerned about, how their privilege of movement and convenience has impacted the living quarters around them, for “freeways move drivers over communities” such as East Los Angeles, “rendering those communities and their inhabitants invisible…[while] blinding [privileged] city dwellers of the realities of poverty and urban decay” (Pattison 120, original italics). In such a setting and condition, it becomes even more difficult to piece together a collective narrative identity when geographical and economic displacement generates psychological and cultural misalignment and impedes the rendering of a community consciousness that can be passed on through the generations. As such, Chavela’s home serves as pivotal discursive space within the novel that provides Viramontes with a literary voice of remonstration and activism.

<15> The only recourse, then, to realign the spatial and psychological fragments of a community under siege is to re-establish the community’s voice and construct a narrative that aligns the pieces of culture and history through the literary odyssey. Character movements through the spaces of the novel are both relevant and important in demonstrating some level of resilience as well as a resistance to institutional violence and decimation. The literary odysseys, albeit fragmented, that each of Viramontes’ characters makes throughout Their Dogs Came with Them render “different stories and, like the freeways, … [they] all intersect” (Viramontes, “You Carry”, 82). A character in the novel who epitomizes this literary odyssey while demonstrating “the difficulty of claiming a unified Chican@ consciousness, or an imaginary past Aztlánian homeland” (Cuevas 31) is Turtle, the only female member of the local McBride (Avenue) Boys gang. Born Antonia Gamboa, Turtle, whose older brother Luis is also part of the gang, complicates her own gender construction by assimilating to a hyper-masculine code of deportment, dress, and disconnection. Thus, her “ambiguously gendered nickname serves as a rite of passage from a girl’s childhood into a masculine gender expression on the streets…[as well as a] street mask, her shell or protective layer that keeps her from being read as female and therefore a vulnerable target in street life” (Cuevas 34, 36). Turtle’s indeterminate identity underscores a larger distancing not only from el movimiento, but also from the very neighborhood places of her childhood that once fostered a landscape of Mexican American heritage and identity. Indeed, she has become what Chavela had warned Ermila against many years earlier: one of the disappeared.

<16> While mobility can provide a sense of purpose and direction, Turtle’s odyssey is more about social death, exile, and abandonment, refractions of the broken spaces through which she now moves. In a pivotal chapter, Turtle finds herself estranged from her gang-family and wanders the night terrain of the barrio, moving from cemetery to cemetery in search of refuge from her homelessness, hunger, and exile. Haunted by traumatic memories in her young life, she appears in stark contrast to the urban pedestrians who establish a “[position] of political agency” as Foucault and Lefebvre argue (Pattison 119). The massive concrete spines and femurs of the aerial freeways and on-ramps indiscriminately slice through her old neighborhood, preventing mobility, discouraging spatial relations to place, and disrupting continuity between space and time.

<17> While Turtle’s odyssey is a solo journey, her travels attempt to exhume a collective narrative of community despite the walls, fences, and concrete constructions that seem to have rendered her world into an expanding necropolis. As Turtle moves from one cemetery to the next, she passes below the dimly lit entanglement of freeways. At each cemetery, she must force her entrance and seek shelter from the violent and debilitating streets and alleyways. Her movement between the five different cemeteries is fragmented not only by the interloping freeway above and the nightly helicopters enforcing curfew, but also by the narrative intrusions Viramontes creates of tragic memories from the past that seem to be stand-ins for the larger spatio-political injustices that have reshaped this community since the mid-19th century. From the vantage point of one cemetery, Turtle gazes upon her former house, now dilapidated and devoid of family, recalling “smoke from the [crematorium] chimney blowing ash over their games of stickball” (Viramontes 219) for “[y]ou only realized you had [a home],” she muses, “once you didn’t” (Viramontes 221). This realization of loss combines the personal with the communal and underscores how for each home destroyed a scar remains for the entire community to bear.

<18> Past and present ghost-like memories visit her along her journey, whirling in a space of tragedy and loss for Turtle. Wandering on to other urban cemeteries scattered across the landscape, Turtle exhumes moments in her young life, equally sorrowful and violent: trespassing on early freeway construction sites which seemed “[d]ead and alive. Another planet, a crater of another world mixed into her real world at the same time” (Viramontes 225); in another, out-running the McBride Boys by “jumping the gravestones like a gazelle” to avoid the pain of her torturous gang initiation; in another, hearing her older brother Luis’ voice, “dead, somewhere in ‘Nam” (235); and then, recalling how the elderly Chavela would wash Turtle’s dirt-caked face and nourish her with cold lemonade long before Chavela’s house was entombed below the freeway. Viramontes’ use of the cemetery is not coincidental; these memories are those of spatial and personal deaths that Turtle recollects as she wanders, intertwining and braiding place and person yet again. It is one of the community’s narratives, albeit one of death and disappearance, but it is a narrative to which Turtle clings, for this is all she has of her neighborhood now.

<19> The cemeteries throughout Their Dog Came with Them paradoxically invoke a sense of static history and timeless disconnection, “simultaneously a presence and [an] absence” (Johnson 4). As a heterotopia, a cemetery can serve as a space that intersects rather than separates. Therefore, as liminal sites, the novel’s varied cemeteries offer momentary contemplation and processing of traumatic memories. The fact that the freeways above isolate Turtle from other spaces in the postmetropolis underscores the cemeteries’ role as a microcosm conveying multiple meanings both in and out of time. As perhaps the last physical repository for personal and collective memory, cemeteries offer a nexus of community prior to the socio-spatial dissolution. In these spaces, there exists an ongoing “juxtaposition, syncretism, and coalescence, which originate a prosperity of referential codes” (Morales 26) and establish a language with which to recalibrate and articulate a postmetropolis in flux.

<20> The cemeteries further offer an intersection of urban narratives, of communities other than her own who have transformed the spaces of Los Angeles throughout the decades. Here Viramontes demonstrates how even in death, the dominant culture leaves its mark through monuments and memorials. Unable to break into the barred chapel in the final cemetery, Turtle seeks shelter in a nearby open mausoleum. Within, the historical names inscribed all around her in this necropolis reflect the names of the city’s streets she has always traversed. Using dried, dead flowers collected from the gravesites, she carefully prepares her own macabre funeral bed, recalling the nights she and her brother would sleep in a tent outside on the summer-burnt grass. An inscription above her reads “Asleep in Jesus, Blessed Sleep” (Viramontes 236).  Lying down, she muses at the ambiguous name of the mausoleum’s inhabitant interred here in 1884: Robert E. Ross from Clarke County, Ohio, and “wonder[s] what possessed this old white man […] to die so far from home” (236). While the cemeteries offer an opportunity for reassembling an historical identity, personally and collectively, the Anglo crypts recall the legacy of socio-spatial dislocation for Chicana/os in the mid-20th century, for Mexican citizens after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the mid-19th century, and the indigenous communities during the Spanish Conquest of this region. In each historical account, the dislocated community endeavored to create a “nepantla,” the Nahuatl term for liminal space in order to survive culturally and socially.

<21> The novel’s central characters converge on a dark, rainy intersection at the end of the novel which only underscores how, despite their respective odysseys through the spaces of Viramontes’ novel, the characters still bear this sense of collective hopelessness, fear, and immobility because of the  trauma caused by the freeway’s construction. This parallels the author’s own memory of the actual violent transformation of and sense of immobility from her childhood upbringing in East Los Angeles (Viramontes, “You Carry,” 85). Turtle has killed Ermila’s cousin Nacho in a gang crime and consequently has been shot by the police despite the failed attempts by Tranquilina, a young urban missionary serving in the community, to stop the police. Cradling Turtle in a pieta-like rendering, Tranquilina screams at the police in the closing scene that they are not dogs. The reaction underscores a life of physical and psychological suffering Tranquilina has endured throughout the narrative: “The words crashed into one another, rocketing into one big howl of pleading, demanding, a speeding blur of raging language blending in with the chaos of commands and shouts and order and circuslike commotion coming from the shooters who stood in the darkness” (Viramontes 324). Her bold and defiant action of refusing to be colonized yet once again by invaders severs Tranquilina from the physical pains of suffering and engenders her with agency.

<22> Tranquilina’s final act of resistance becomes a cry of rage not only for herself but for all in her community whose socio-political position has been dislocated and erased from the legacy of institutional violence. Her strength and conviction come from a refusal to be the victim. Ignoring police commands to stop and place her hands upon her head, she makes her way toward them courageously and defiantly. “Her arms by her side, her fists clenched, she would not fear them” (Viramontes 325). Tranquilina learns that redemption is achieved not through the suffering and the societal negating that she has experienced in life, but, rather is manifest through an activism and agency she is able to generate in the open streets, an activism that allows her to no longer accept a second-class status. In this gesture, she moves “beyond the borders, past the cesarean scars of earth, out to the limitless space where everything was possible if she believed” (325). In her own state of tranquil determination, Tranquilina’s social protest frees her, placing her on a course of action that will render her not only visible, but powerful, regardless of this final confrontation’s outcome, which Viramontes leaves deliberately ambiguous for her readers.

<23> While the locations throughout Viramontes’ novel Their Dogs Came with Them demonstrate how Chicana/o heterotopias “are ordinary spaces, or real places constituting a location that serves paradoxical and revealing functions about every day social life” (Bondy 86), the locations and cultural practices throughout the film Quinceañera operate as “real sites that represent, contest, and illuminate the converse of other sites found within [Latino] culture” (86). Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, a real-life couple who moved to the same Echo Park neighborhood featured in the film,   Quinceañera chronicles life in the changing Echo Park district of Los Angeles, a traditionally Latino neighborhood undergoing the process of upward mobility and gentrification. [3] The film’s focus on economic dislocation and Latino-Anglo culture clashes can be seen in its portrayal of the quinceañera, the sexual conquest of a central character (Carlos), and the subtle-but-persistent visual imagery and conversations regarding the future of Echo Park.  Yet, concurrently, the film also offers a message of hope and resistance to this dislocation through the protagonists’ refusals to be ostracized by patriarchy, homophobia, or sexism.

<24> As a cultural practice, the quinceañera has ties to the 4th century, with rituals linked to Mayan and Toltec cultures, along with practices associated with 17th century French royal courts (Martínez 494).  The term translates to English as “15 years” or “15th birthday” and marks the passage of a girl from childhood to adulthood.  Though customs and rituals differ from country to country, generation to generation, the typical event consists of a Catholic Mass or similar church ceremony, followed by a reception where symbolic rituals might include lighting fifteen candles, exchanging flat-heeled shoes for high-heels, or receiving a final doll to demonstrate childhood’s end (Jackson).  Moreover, as Ilan Stavans argues in the introduction to his edicted collection on the quinceañera, the practice “has become an important social occasion in the Latino community in the United States, especially among Mexicans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans” (ix). As both a spiritual event and a coming-of-age celebration, the cultural rituals, preparations and practices of a quinceañera are much more involved than the “sweet sixteen” birthday party and perhaps more like a debutante ball hosted for just one girl.

<25> Yet, others have noted that Americanization of the quinceañera has changed the event from one of a celebration of maturation to a demonstration of economic ranking.  Julia Alvarez discusses this in her book Once Upon a Quinceañera when comparing modest Latin American quinceañeras with their American counterparts, and Kristen Deiter argues that American Capitalist practices that seek to profit from a Barbie-like version of the girl/event have often dislocated the church as benefactor or spiritual sponsor of the event (47).  This is perhaps best exemplified by the attention given to a 2016 quinceañera whose $6 million in expenditures was detailed by several media outlets (White).  Much like the bridal industry, an entire market has emerged in the United States for the quinceañera, with young-adult books focused on the topic, party planners and decorators who specialize in quinceañeras, and quinceañera magazines akin to bridal periodicals aimed at girls planning their own.  For Angharad N. Valdivia, “the fact that there are magazines aimed at the quinceañera market alone documents the presence and purchasing power of the young Latina population in the United States”(388).   Today, the quinceañera has become both a tie to one’s cultural heritage and a status symbol for Latinas and their families.

<26> The quinceañera’s upward mobility is visibly highlighted in the film’s opening sequence, which focuses on the celebration organized for the main character Magdelena’s cousin Eileen.  Initially, the film opens with an establishing shot of a storefront church with its cheap landscape screen, community-center chairs and faded carpet, with the Magdelena’s father, an evangelical church pastor, delivering a customary blessing to his niece on her 15th birthday.  In contrast to this storefront church’s shabby decor is Eileen, who sits upon a throne-like chair in a bridal-like gown, a cubic zirconia tiara upon her head. Soon, the scene shifts again to a Hummer limousine, complete with dance/strip pole in its interior, an expensive yet gaudy vehicle rented for Eileen and her 13 attendants—all of whom wear matching tuxedos and gowns. While the food is being made by Magdelena’s mother and other female relatives, the dance hall rented for Eileen’s special occasion is decorated with balloons and streamers, tiered cakes, and a full mariachi band and reggaeton DJexpenses that are further detailed by the professional video whose intent is clearly to chronicle the prosperity of the event for posterity.  The scene demonstrates Dolores Prida’s argument that “quinceañera parties have become as big and expensive as a keeping-up-with-the-Perezes wedding — minus the groom.”  Today, Prida contends, “Hired halls; fantasy gowns for the birthday girl, her escort and a 14-couple court; catered meals; orchestras; choreographers; videographers; photographers, and stretch limousines are now de rigueur” with some parents undertaking second mortgages to pay the average $5,000 (and up to $80,000) now typically spent on this coming-of-age event.” Indeed, the advice Magdelena’s uncle gives her father is to “Get ready to pay through the nose” for Magdelena’s upcoming 15th birthday (Quinceañera).

<27> The economic realities of the Quinceanera are further demonstrated in this conversation as well. While her father offers the rebuttal that “Magdalena’s won’t be like that.  She’s different. She’s a more traditional girl than Eileen” (Quinceañera). Magdalena does indeed covet a quineceañera on the same opulent scale, and is initially disappointed when her mother shares the good news that her aunt is going to alter Eileen’s dress for Magdalena’s own quinceañera.  After all, Magdalena’s father Ernesto,  “Isn’t like Uncle Walter. He doesn’t have money to throw around” (Quinceañera).  Here, the movie demonstrates Karen Mary Dávalos’ argument that “the forms of the quinceañera are directly related to one’s economic position or the ability to solicit support from Padrinos, who might pay for the cake, the photographer, the food, or any item that parents cannot afford” (21). These conversations, coupled with other mise-en-scene items such as costume and home décor, demonstrate the economic chasm between Magdalena’s struggling, working-class family and Eileen’s newly wealthy parents. Katynka Z. Martínez likewise notes that “the ceremony does often become an economic burden on poor and working-class Latina/o families” (494), and the film’s juxtaposition between Eileen’s and Magdalena’s ceremonial preparations reveals this burden quite explicitly.

<28> For Julia Alvarez, the quinceañera is at once a product of the desire to reconnect with one’s cultural history and a manifestation of the affluenza inherent in the American Dream. In Once Upon A Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the U.S.A., she argues that the emphasis on upward mobility has in large part turned the quinceañera from a rite of passage into a “right of passage”: “rites become rights.  New generations feel entitled to what older generations struggled to obtain for them.”  Thus, there is no question as to whether Magdalena will have a quinceañera; it is the size and scope of that event that is in negotiation during the film’s rising action.

<29> Perhaps no other symbol so manifests Magdalena’s desire for upward mobility as the Hummer limo, a continual request she makes of her parents, or, more aptly, of her mother to “Just talk to Dad about it for me, please” (Quinceañera). In that her mother serves as her go-between on such matters, Quinceañera also demonstrates “the institution of hierarchical family and other traditional, or conservative institutions, identities, and ideologies” inherent in this cultural practice (McCracken 111).   Even though the day is meant to celebrate a girl’s coming-of-age, it is the father who bestows adulthood upon his daughter with a series of traditions demonstrating this power as belonging to the patriarch. Accordingly, Angela McCracken notes how the quinceañera manifests “the ideology of masculine power and privilege” by its reliance on women’s unpaid labor to make the event happen (like the women cooking the food at Eileen’s quinceañera) and by the prestige and “weight given to the patriarch(s) throughout the event” (111).  The Hummer limo then symbolizes Magdalena’s desire to participate in this process, to live what Alvarez calls the “princess-in-the-patriarchy fantasy” of the quinceañera’s queen-for-a-day mythos.

<30> Patriarchy is further at play in the film as the power by which both Magdalena and her cousin Carlos have been dislocated by their families–Carlos for his homosexuality and Magdalena for her pregnancy.  In both cases, their dislocation is the result of sexuality beyond the scope allowed by their respective fathers. Indeed, when Carlos tries to attend his sister Eileen’s quinceañera celebration, he is physically removed from the proceedings by his father (Uncle Walter) and his father’s male family members; Walter even tells him “You’re not my son anymore!  I don’t want you here” before his rather brutal physical eviction from Eileen’s celebration (Quinceañera). [4]  Magdalena, likewise, is told that her pregnancy at 14 makes her unfit for a quinceañera and her claims to virginity are rejected by her minister father as heretical.  Both Carlos and Magdalena find asylum in the home of their elderly great-great uncle whose rooms are filled with Catholic iconography, family photos, and varied artifacts of visual history–a home that stands in marked contrast from those of his great nieces and nephews for his refusal to reject artifacts of the past in favor of those signifiers indicating financial progress and growth.

<31> Alongside the upward mobility of its residents, the gentrification of Echo Park, Los Angeles, serves as an important backdrop to Carlos and Magdelena’s narratives of dislocation as well. On the in-law unit property he has rented for nearly three decades, Tomas has created an outdoor garden-like shrine comprised of carefully cared for plants, succulents, and small trees; pink, blue, and yellow concrete walls, borderlines, and walkways; translucent hanging beads and lights in a variety of shapes and colors—all of which create an organic cathedral, perpetually bathed in warm sunlight and cool breezes. Nevertheless, his home and shrine are part of a larger property, one recently purchased by Gary and James, a gay white couple who now live in the main house and who both celebrate and participate in the broader gentrification of Echo Park. A work-of-art-in-progress for the last 28 years, the shrine is a significant space throughout the film serving as a repository for a community slowly disappearing to gentrification. Tomas’ shrine is a small labyrinth of niches and alcoves with a stone hearth and archways made from crude mosaics and plastic trellises lined with license plates. Old television roof antennas with carefully placed green and yellow glass bottles in the piping construct this kaleidoscopic cathedral of discarded objects and images that Tomas has been collecting on his daily journeys throughout Echo Park selling his famous, homemade champurrado and socializing with neighbors and friends.  In contrast to this home space, the film’s cinematography offers several establishing shots that provide visual markers of Echo Park’s transition. Now sidewalk vendors like Tomas coexist side by side with high-end restaurants, expensive home decor shops, and luxury automobiles dealerships–all signs of what one Los Angeles Times’ article calls evidence that Echo Park “has either already gentrified itself into over-mortgaged oblivion or is one Starbucks away from tipping over into a full-blown bourgeoispolis” (“Ready”).  Tomas’s world, as the film reveals, is quickly disappearing.

<32> Despite Magdalena’s denial of her pregnancy, her father Ernesto, a day-time evangelical minister and security guard at night, argues with Tomas about her innocence. Violating the virgin-to-mother code of expectation, Ernesto considers his daughter to be no better than La Malinche, the traitorous whore who violates the sanctity of a patriarchal system he protects. Failing to convince Ernesto, Tomas becomes silent. In a close-up shot of Tomas’ necklace of the Virgin of Guadalupe, we see him rubbing the medallion as though attempting to invoke an intersession. An immediate jump-cut to the shrine shows Tomas placing a framed photograph of Magdalena on the high altar beside one of Carlos. Like the discarded icons and objects from the community from which Tomas has built this shrine, both Magdalena and Carlos are now a part of this site’s pantheon of saint statuaries.

<33> Exiled for their sexual misconduct, Magdalena and Carlos must learn to recalibrate their identities in a place that has rendered them silent and invisible. As such, the shrine is more than just a terrain of comfort and protection for them; it is a locus for the re-configuration of identity that provides a language of mobility and creative production through which to critique dominant discourses of sexuality and heteronormativity. The shrine thus functions as a heterotopia in its multiplicity, mutable ordering, and simultaneity.  Rather than simply a reflective mirror of society, as both Foucault and Soja posit, Tomas’ shrine-as-heterotopia recreates the culture at large and illustrates the very nature of the heterotopia, which is to draw together artifacts from various parts of dominant and minority cultures and allow them simultaneously to co-exist, clash, and coalesce into new patterns and possibilities.

<34> Coming into his own sexual awakening, Carlos seeks out his own space in a neighborhood that judges and condemns not only his sexual behavior but also how his masculinity challenges the code of machismo and patriarchy, tenets strongly upheld in his traditional family and reinforced by their religion. This young Chicano has also been denied access to the promise of a political and cultural Aztlán, a realm of agency and power reserved for heterosexual Chicanos that has denied Chicanas and gay Chicanos full participation since its inception in the late 1960s. Whereas “Chicanos are a nation of people,” according to Chicana playwright Cherríe Moraga, “internally colonized within the borders of the U.S. nation-state” (169), queer Chicana/os are a sub-colonized nation within a colonized one since “they are deemed ‘inferior’ for not fulfilling the traditional role of men . . . and are especially vulnerable to male violence” as a result (Moraga 160). [6] Like Magdalena, Carlos seeks legitimacy and empowerment through the non-judgmental spaces their great-great-uncle has produced.

<35> Yet, here, too, Carlos encounters marginalization within the gay community, via his neighbors who seek from him the fulfillment of their Latin(o) Lover fantasies.  Charles Ramírez Berg notes that the Latin Lover has long been a “continual screen character” who functions as “the possessor of a primal sexuality that [makes] him capable of making a sensuous but dangerous—and clearly non-WASP—brand of love” (76). [7]  When he borrows a wrench to fix Tomas’ garbage disposal, Carlos finds himself at the center of Gary and James’ Latin lover sexual fantasies about a “super hot cholo coming up the back stairs wearing a wife beater” (Quineañera).  Soon, he is invited to their house warming party, an all-male, predominantly-white-male, predominantly wealthy-male event whose conversations focus on the of doubling home prices in the area, bidding wars, mortgage equity, and other “improvements” being made to the neighborhood.  After being told by the seemingly only other Latino at the party (in Spanish) that Gary and James “love their Latin boys” (Quineañera), Carlos begins an affair—his first ever as he later confesses to Magdalena—with Gary and James. [8]  Soon, however, Carlos finds he prefers Gary, who is “younger” and “hotter” and troubled in his own right by the economic disparity in his own relationship with James (Quineceañera).  Gary uses his liaison with Carlos to confess his own feelings of economic subservience to James as breadwinner, and the two explore their class and cultural differences in an amusing scene in which Carlos shows Gary how to make gang signs to symbolize “Echo Parque.”  Upon hearing that flashing this sign could get him killed by a rival gang, Gary quips, “Wow. You really live in a whole other world, don’t you?” (Quineañera).   The scene ends with Carlos’s rebuttal:  “No, you do.” This rejoinder not only serves as a reminder that Gary, not Carlos, is the neighborhood outsider, and it also demonstrates “the processes that shape how these places are understood, envisioned, defined, and variously experienced” (Brady 7).

<36> In many ways, Gary and James’ relationship with Carlos is very much akin to their economic conquest of the neighborhood. As Inez Valdez notes in her reading of the film, “Gary and James . . . benefit from the colonialist prerogative that guarantees white males sexual access to natives….The context in this case is not literally colonialism, but gentrification. The narrative in the film effectively draws parallels between the two by showing the darkest dimension of gentrification: the racialized hierarchical economic structure that underlies it” (27).  Accordingly, just as they want Carlos to fulfill their fantasies of difference within the safe parameters of their relationship’s rules of engagement (he is, in other words, to be both dangerously different yet completely safe; he is a toy to be shared, not a person in his own right with the ability to undermine their bond), they also wish for the neighborhood to provide them with a dash of the exotic or “street cred” while still allowing them the benefits and safety of home ownership in central Los Angeles and its continually rising values.

<37> The correlation between Carlos as sexual conquest and Echo Park as economically overtaken is further demonstrated when James learns of Gary and Carlos’ separate relationship.  Not long after James and Gary’s heated argument regarding the affair, Tomas receives an eviction letter giving him one month to relocate. Though Carlos angrily tries to intervene, he finds himself pounding on a deserted back door, for James and Gary have retreated to Palm Springs to resolve their relationship issues. The camera sweeps the empty spaces of their home interior, showcasing its new appliances, fresh paint, and high-end furnishings, all of which serve as a silent yet powerful reply to Carlos’ furious but futile knocking. Their money, it seems, symbolically allows them to make this eviction without having to face their complicity and their privilege in the process.

<38> Thereafter, however, the focus returns to Tomas, Carlos, and Magdalena and how they individually attempt to cope with their impending eviction from home and garden. While Carlos reacts with fury and Magdalena with enterprising attempts to relocate the trio, the film’s focus on Tomas is the most poignant and heartbreaking.  As a bachelor, Tomas operated outside the gender expectations of his community; and yet, he has created his own family with Carlos and Magdalena. Contemplating all that he will now lose, Tomas sits alone in the shrine one final time, bathed in sunlight, weeping. He, too, has been exiled like his adopted children.

<39> The film is intentional in this demonstration of Latina/o residents and their displacement.  In various interviews, Glazer and Westmoreland have articulated a desire to “be authentic. We didn’t want this film to feel like it was made by two white boys peering in. It had to be insider. We cast people from our Echo Park neighborhood and constantly looked to them to let us know if we were on target” (qtd. in Indiewire). Part of that desire was to show the neighborhood’s upward mobility as well.  Westmoreland notes how “in the film everyone’s talking about the hot real estate market and we wanted to say, ‘Well, what’s it like from the point of view of the renters?’” (qtd. in Guillen).  Other writers likewise echo how the gentrification of Echo Park is dislocating long-time residents. Notably, Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez of The Soloist fame discusses Echo Park’s gentrification from the perspective of the Sanchezes, a family that has rented a 3-bedroom home in this Latino enclave for 31 years, and is now being evicted by a development company that plans to “build a cluster of five homes on the lot, and . . . each unit could go for $800,000 or more.”  Lopez contends, “It’s not just their home that they’re losing . . . Like a lot of other longtime residents, many of them Latino, they’re effectively being squeezed out of Echo Park, where apartments smaller than the home they live in are going for twice what they pay, and corner bodegas give way to $5 coffee shops.”

<40> The Sanchezes’ experience mirrors Tomas’s own, and Quinceañera chronicles this displacement in key scenes that show family members searching for affordable options within the neighborhood. Tomas’ niece Silvia, for instance, takes him to look at a tiny, 1980s-style, unfurnished, one-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of a building without an elevator–a situation unsustainable for a man Tomas’ age.  Several scenes feature Magdalena’s search as well–from shacks being rented for over $500 dollars a month in one scene, to a “bargain” apartment leased for over a thousand a month minutes after its arrival on the market. One scene even features Magdalena’s attempts to negotiate a lower rent with promises of free champurrado (from Tomas), free car detailing (from Carlos), and free housekeeping (from Magdalena) for an apartment whose upgrades place it above their collective incomes.

<41> Unable to make the new changes expected of him, Tomas passes away quietly, a death clearly linked to his eviction and the neighborhood’s gentrification. While Maria, Magdalena’s and Aunt Silvia sift through the familial artifacts of Tomas’ home, Carlos returns to learn of his great-uncle’s fate. Immediately, he runs to the shrine’s main altar and is soon joined by an equally mournful Magdalena. While the two embrace with tears, the camera pans to the altar to show Carlos and Magdalena’s framed photos among statues of the angels, the Holy Family, and other religious iconography decorating Tomas’ space. The shrine recalibrates the traditional Holy Family’s narrative by juxtaposing it against Carlos, Magdalena, and her unborn child’s emerging family. This sacred embrace—which underscores an earlier promise Carlos makes to support his cousin by helping to raise the baby while she finishes school—also reveals agency for the characters. Like Magdalena who now “maps-out and performs a new gendered and sexualized subjectivity,” according to J.M Bondy, “one that refuses to be reduced to essentialized representations of the culturally and sexually pure Latina” (93), Carlos understands that this heterotopic site between the sacred and the secular has taught him self-definition and a non-judgmental love, providing them a space by which to unravel heteronormative constructions of sexuality and gender, a haven against their dislocation.

<42> With Tomas’ death, this haven seems destined to disappear for Carlos and Magdalena, and, in a scene that follows, Gary and James’ conversation about repurposing the shrine into an area for their Jacuzzi seems to confirm their dislocation and rejection yet again.  Here, however, the film takes a surprising turn: Carlos assumes a key role at Tomas’ funeral, delivering the eulogy, a speech that is at once defiant of patriarchy and a refusal to be denied his rightful place as Tomas’ relative and spiritual heir. At the funeral, Magdalena’s fate shifts as well when her father, having learned from Magdalena’s female doctor and her own mother that Magdalena is indeed a virgin, declares her pregnancy “a miracle” and begs her to forgive him for his earlier treatment of her (Quinceañera).  The film ends with a full-circle conclusion: a Hummer limo pulls to the curb, a series of attendants exit the limo, and a white-tuxedoed Carlos escorts a pregnant pretty-in-pink Magdalena to the princess throne once occupied by Eileen.

<43> This ending has been criticized for offering an easy and unrealistic fix—most notably by Roger Ebert who wrote that the film “pretends to wrap up everything in a nice, neat package by staging a nonsensical deus ex machina.” One can also certainly argue that the film seems to reinscribe patriarchal forces, for Ernesto (and only Ernesto) is still empowered to exonerate Magdalena, approving and providing her with a quinceañera only when her virginity is medically proven.  In such a reading, the film’s sense of patriarchy is very much maintained, perhaps even strengthened.

<44> However, another interpretation of the film’s conclusion is also possible. Niamh Thornton, for example, argues in her article about the film that the conclusion demonstrates a “break with the traditional family unit toward a family of choice and a brave new future, which even the conservative Ernesto embraces” (64).  In choosing Carlos for her escort, Magdalena signifies her own newfound acceptance of her cousin, someone she initially criticized for being “a liar, and a thief, and a pothead.  And a gay” (Quinceañera).  That Ernesto has approved this choice and has agreed to facilitate the quinceañera is further evidence of this shift, as is the presence of Carlos’ parents at the ceremony, which alludes to the possibility for a potential reconciliation in this relationship as well.  Thornton further argues that “This neat, somewhat resolved fairy-tale ending shows that the forces of progress win over tradition and conservatism” (64).  In such a reading, one can see elements of Cherríe Moraga’s call for a “Queer Aztlán,” “A Chicano homeland that could embrace all its people, including its jotería [gays and lesbians]” (147).  Hence, Carlos and Magdalena have created a third space from the cultural elements they embrace (Tomas’s unconditional love and home, and the traditions of the quinceañera) and the cultural elements they reject (the heteronormative patriarchy).

<45> Magdalena’s choices for her quinceañera, which are now an amalgamation of her earlier desires and her recent transformations, also bear evidence of Alvarez’s claim that, despite its rampant materialism, the quinceañera is also confirmation of a desire to end one’s dislocation and reconnect oneself to family and tradition:

Lifted out of the context of our home cultures, traditions like the quinceañera became malleable: they mix with the traditions of other cultures that we encounter here; they become exquisite performances of our ethnicities with the larger host culture while at the same time reaffirming that we are not “them” by connecting us to if only in spirit to our root cultures.  In other words, the tradition tells a larger story of our transformation into Latinos, a Pan-Hispanic group made in the USA, now being touted as the “new Americans.” (7)

<46> Thus, Glatzer and Westmoreland’s film concludes not only with the transformation of its protagonists, but their return to family and home with a difference.

<47> Both Their Dogs Came with Them and Quinceañera demonstrate that inhabited spaces, both geographical and psychological, can be colonized by outside (and inside) power systems intent on transforming homes, streets, and communities into artifacts of capital gain, devoid of cultural or historical relevance or meaningful reference to the colonized. While the novel reveals this through the urban fixtures of bulldozers and freeways, the film illustrates this colonial practice through patriarchal power and neighborhood gentrification. The very meaning and essence of the Latina/o community, then, is rendered hollow, or at best contained and commodified into an exotic cultural shell that is regulated and defined by the dominating group.

<48> When cultural spaces and constructions are reduced to material objects, they are easily transferable in the marketplace of capitalist discourse. This is especially true in urban spaces undergoing varied conversions.  According to urban theorist David Harvey, “[T]he very existence of money as a mediator of commodity exchange radically transforms and fixes the meanings of space and time in social life and defines limits and imposes necessities upon the shape and form of urbanization” (165). However, even though systems of power and dominance may employ economic and spatial actions which result in strength over minority communities, Harvey argues that “innumerable movements of revulsion and revolt” are still capable of  “liberat[ing] space from its various forms of domination, [of liberating] time for free use, and [of existing] independently of the crass vulgarity of pure money valuations,” all of which can generate and foster “social protest movements of enormous breadth and scope” (165-166). Their Dogs Came with Them and Quinceañera show how within the monumental fabric of the heterotopia, there exists a vast “horizon of meaning” that possesses “a shifting hierarchy” of multiple social orderings, as originally described by Henri Lefebvre (222, original italics).  Because of this legacy of socio-spatial dislocation, Chicana/o identities are in continual flux and movement. Since, for example, Turtle’s cemeteries or Tomas’s shrine in these works can be read as Chicano/a heterotopic paradoxes, they are only perceptible by their kaleidoscopic change. They shift and redirect definitions, thus illustrating how movement between multiple borders of language and culture serves to recalibrate and articulate the multi-faceted struggle to express and empower simultaneously one’s self and one’s community.

<49> While, in essence, both of these texts critique the dislocation experienced by their protagonists, their conclusions also demonstrate the potential for relocation in a new and third space. Viramontes’ Their Dogs Came with Them exemplifies this in its characters’ abilities to find and articulate agency, albeit momentary, in spaces and locations that reject their containment and restraint. Likewise, Quinceañera illustrates this potential through its full-circle conclusion and its reimagining of the quinceañera celebration as belonging equally to the family’s sexual outsiders. Notably, neither text argues that dislocation is preventable; indeed, both seem to posit the inevitability of Los Angeles’ capitalist-driven gentrification. Yet, and perhaps more importantly, Their Dogs Came with Them and Quinceañera exemplify that both resistance and belonging are possible in the spaces in between.  It is in this very site of ambiguity where the literary and filmic production of art demonstrates what the recalibration process actually looks like and what it can mean in larger, more meaningful contexts. Carrying the border is not a burden, for it is a call to action and can be used as an opportunity to “imagine other lives [and possible outcomes] in a colonized zone” (Viramontes, “You Carry” 85). Carrying the border means articulating a narrative map, albeit a kaleidoscopic one in the “napantla” (Mora 5), that charts and negotiates the ceaseless transformations, challenges, and reorderings of the postmetroplis.


[1] Viramontes’ novel depicts the construction of the 60/Pomona and 710 freeway nexus during the 1960s that impacted East Los Angeles directly. In the same spirit of 19th century Paris boulevard construction under Baron Haussmann and mid-20th century New York City freeway construction under Robert Moses, the city of Los Angeles also constructed the following freeways during the mid-20th century: I-5, I-10, and U.S. 101.

[2] See Lorna Dee Cervantes’ freeway poems “Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway” and “Freeway 280” in Emplumada (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981), Gil Cuadros’ City of God (City Lights, 2001), or Viramontes’ short story “Neighbors” (Arte Publico Press, 1985) for more literary examples of exhuming memory in the aftermath of the Los Angeles freeway displacement of Chicana/os.

[3] In numerous interviews, Glatzer and Westmoreland discuss how the film’s plot is centered on their own life experiences in Echo Park and how their neighbors helped them make this low-budget Indie film that ultimately won both the Audience and Grand Jury Prizes at Sundance Film Festival. For more background on the making of Quinceañera, see Bowen, Gillien and Indiewire.

[4] Carlos is punched to the ground twice during the event: first by his father and then by another male relative or friend.

[5] The film makes clear that Magdalena’s pregnancy is a result of non-penetrative sexual relations with her boyfriend whose “sperm must be pretty strong swimmers” (Quinceañera). Magdalena’s doctor later confirms this for Magdalena’s mother, emphasizing that Magdalena’s hymen has not been broken despite her pregnancy.

[6] Here, too, Carlos’s dual beatings at his sister’s quinceañera exemplify Moraga’s claims.

[7] Berg also traces the origins of this stereotype to Rudolph Valentino, and adds that actors such as Ricardo Montalbán and Antonio Banderas have assumed roles that “haplessly reiterate the erotic combination of characteristics instituted by Valentino:  eroticism, exoticism, tenderness tinged with violence and danger, all adding up to the promise that, sexually, things could very well get out of control” (76). Glatzer and Westmoreland’s use of this film cliché is both a gesture demonstrating the persistent power of the Latin lover stereotype and an ironic subversion of it in that Carlos is initially the film’s least sexually experienced character.

[8] Carlos also confesses to Magdalena that his father discovered his sexual interests in men by monitoring Carlos’ Internet activity, and Carlos was expelled from the house for this alone.



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