our annual "Family Dinner," I sat down with my kin and, same
as always, wondered how much inbreeding it took to create such madness.
We ate from grandma's recipes -- more turkey -- to the sound of fans cheering
wildly on the TV beyond. My drunken relatives voiced their opinions on
life, the univere, and everything. I tried to rebut, but they had God on
This year I asked my wife Yahaira to tie a rope around me and not
let me get sucked into the dinner debates. In exchange, I would visit
her family afterward (they were having a fiesta). Yahaira sat still
while my uncle grew louder and turned red and spit mashed potatoes
in his effort to explain why Democrats should be executed. When he
finished, we excused ourselves and bolted for the door.
My wife's name is Yahaira. She was born in the Dominican Republic
and raised in California, which makes her Bla-spani-casian.
Nearing the fiesta, I could hear music pulsing from within. It shook
the windows and echoed in the clouds, a Latin thunder that made you
move against your will. We opened the door, and everyone cheered. Yahaira's
aunt ("Tia") danced over and, without losing the beat, took
my coat and led me to the living room. I had never met the woman.
Tia put her arm around my waist and forced my Caucasian bones to merengue.
Merengue thrives on shouting and stomping and high-pitched cat calls.
I fell in love with it instantly. I must have looked foolish to the
natives, but in my mind I was living la vida loca. So it goes.
Tia danced me into the backyard, where I met the rest of the family.
There were enough Dominicans here to form two more major league teams.
Everyone spoke Spanish, so I just nodded stupidly. Some took advantage
of the opportunity to talk about me in front of my back. They were
not judging me but reveling in the fact that a guy could be so white
Tia introduced me to everyone -- and I mean everyone -- all the way
down to the fetus in her sister's belly. And everyone offered me food.
Did I look gaunt? It turned out that they just enjoyed eating. There
was food everywhere: rice, beans, tortillas, Coronas, even those green,
banana-looking things you see in the store but don't know where they
go. Simmering on the grill were mounds of meat that smelled delicious
for blocks. I asked the cook what type of meat it was.
He laughed and said, "Es meat. You like it."
On the adjoining patio, the elders played dominoes. They studied their
tiles like military strategists and slammed them on the table in turn.
I'm not sure what the slamming was about. Every move was some kind
Yahaira's uncle asked me, "You play, Yayson?"
"Not if you don't plug it in somewhere."
The room was silent. Four Dominican elders stared at me vacuously.
That joke killed at Hornblowers.
Suddenly, Tia grabbed my waist and merengued me back to the living
room. Before I could say "un momento," I was stomping and
sweating to the same, never-ending song.
Yahaira's grandma sat like an Indian elder by one of the speakers.
She smiled at the novelty that was me. I couldn't imagine the tantrum
that my own grandmother would be throwing over this commotion.
There was no kiddy table either. The children danced in and out of
our legs, risking their lives to party with the grownups. And the room
continued to rumble. The neighbors would have called the police had
they not been dancing with us.
A circle formed, and people were called into the center to do their
thing. Yahaira was first out, so we raised our arms and chanted something
in Spanish that I didn't understand. One of the men called his mother
out and spun her around till she couldn't see straight. The beat was
so fast, so feverish, it created a high that had nothing to do with
the beer. It was like that scene in Titanic where the poor Irish folks
were jigging in the galley, only everyone here was Black and there
was no boat and it was actually nothing like that at all.
I would be the last to leave that night. I was still taking merengue
lessons as relatives fell asleep on the couch. Knowing that I'd have
to return to my Top 40 world, I guess I was bingeing. I only hope they
invite me back next year, because this beat the hell out of talking
politics with a bunch of turkeys.