All she wanted was to look like all the other brown girls. They were everywhere, versions of the girl she’d prayed to look like in high school. Girls whose bodies and faces she craved. Girls she wished she could be. Girls her mom hated that she resembled. Girls who would wind up pregnant. These were not girls who went to prep school or girls who were college bound. At least that’s what her mother told her.
Lizette’s eyes darted from one exposed belly button to the next. The girls wore tops that tickled their ribs or tops that barely contained their breasts with flimsy shoelace strings they tied into bows at the nape of their necks. The mouths of these girls sprouted plums, their lips lined in a vampy burgundy. The girls took selfies, solo and in groups, while throwing up peace signs and pursing their juicy blood-stained pouts for the gram. Some of these girls had boyfriends that dangled from their wrists like accessories, but Lizette only had eyes for the girls.
Tonight, she could pretend to be one of them, all devoted worshippers of Pretty Kitty, or La Lupita as she was known to her real fans. She, along with these girls and what seemed like the sum of the city, had converged upon the stadium to bear witness to Pretty Kitty’s final show of her tour. Once a makeup artist, Pretty Kitty had managed to become the world’s biggest pop star in a matter of 365 days and some change without ever uttering a word of English. La Lupita had popularized a gangster stripper aesthetic that all the girls around her, including Lizette, mimicked. Her snatched electric pink ponytail had become iconic, and her belly jiggling dance moves made crowds go mad.
Lizette squealed with schoolgirl delight. “This is a very healing experience for my inner child,” she shouted into the ear of her boyfriend Jeff as they walked to find their seats. The mushroom cap Lizette had nibbled on in the car ride over had begun to sprout. She felt her heart’s buttons bust one by one allowing thoughts from the crevices of her mind to tumble freely from her mouth.
Jeff smiled and squeezed her hand. “I’m glad, honey.”
She didn’t have to explain this to Jeff. Over their years together, Lizette had spent many nights narrating her childhood to him. After two glasses of wine, she regularly recounted with tears the woes of growing up as the whitest brown girl.
Seeing these girls tonight sucked her back to her adolescence. The time her mom found her stash of baggy jeans, Dickies pants, and thongs hidden under her bed. Gang paraphernalia was what she called it. To earn her penance, she made Lizette pile them into a black trash bag that reeked of air freshener and sit at the curb until robotic forks scooped up her belongings into the truck’s rancid pit. Or that one time she emerged from the bathroom after spending an hour perfecting her makeup to emulate the cholas she spied on at the mall only to be mocked by her mom when she emerged. “Who do you think you are? La Sad Girl?” she questioned, a horrified laugh erupting from her mouth.
Or how her mother hounded her to look more like the prep school girls she was shelling out money for Lizette to be around. More fresh faced, less makeup, more collared shirts, less halter tops, more Gap, less Wet Seal. Like the ingrate she was, Lizette rejected her mother’s wishes. Lizette longed to look like the girls her mother scorned…girls that reminded her mother of block letter tattoos, the sour scent of beer cans, dark roots sprouting from blonde hair, thick acrylic nails that were so long they became their own appendage. Despite their differences, both she and her mother knew Lizette had no business looking like either type of girl.
Jeff’s hand latched onto Lizette’s as they made their way through the crowd. She sniffed his fear that he would be the only white guy at the concert though he would never admit this. She would just snort up this insecurity and spit it out. Lizette felt Jeff’s grip on her hand weaken as they moved closer to their seats. The crowd had distilled, morphing from Pretty Kitty look-alikes to wealthy suburban teenagers, their chaperones, and executives who were offered tickets as some kind of professional perk. When he realized there were far more of his kind than of hers, his body exhaled, his relief palpable to Lizette. They all were here to see what the fuss was about.
Lizette and Jeff finally made it to the promised land of the arena. Lizette had spent nearly half her rent to sit here, partially because she adored La Lupita, but mostly for the flex of the close up videos she could post. She was pleased with her purchase. Their seats were close enough for La Lupita’s body to sprinkle sweat upon them like holy water.
Lizette and Jeff made themselves small to squeeze in front of an older couple. The couple glanced at her and smiled as they raised their plastic cups. “Cheers!” they offered. Jeff reciprocated the toast while Lizette sulked wondering if their college-aged children had convinced them to attend.
“Babe, do you see how many white people are in this section?” Lizette hissed as she shifted in her heels with an impossible arch. “It’s like nothing is sacred. Not even La Lupita.”
“Didn’t you tell me you had to shell out a fortune for these tickets? Maybe these are the only people who could afford them.”
Her eyes shot daggers into his skull. “Don’t be ignorant. When it comes to being entertained, we’re the ultimate consumers,” she snapped back even though Jeff wasn’t technically part of her ‘we.’
“We, meaning the Latinx community.” she clarified.
“Noted, hon,” Jeff responded.
The stadium flashed black, and a singular growl emerged from the crowd’s belly. A spotlight focused on the center of the stage as La Lupita emerged like an earth goddess from beneath the ground. She came alive as the Virgen incarnate, donning a golden diamond-studded tiara and a turquoise cape that, once she thrust it open, revealed a bedazzled magenta bodysuit. Her male dancers tossed roses at her feet like little Juan Diegos. As Lizette began to meow and make claw gestures in tribute to Pretty Kitty/La Lupita, she noticed a trio of white girls begin to fill in the seats next to her. They were all a foot taller than Lizette and wore matching sunglasses. Maybe, she thought, they’re Argentinian or some kind of rich Latin Americans. The trio didn’t bother to sit. Instead, they immediately raised their arms to film the show. They kept repeating back to each other how cool Pretty Kitty was.
“This is so cool.”
“So cool right.”
In her mind, she named them ‘Las Beckys.’ She chuckled at this, feeling funny from her fungi. They too, like the other girls, gave her nostalgia. Though these weren’t like the ones she venerated. They were more like the girls she walked the halls with at St. Martha’s Academy.
If you looked at Las Beckys in passing, you might not have guessed it at first. One of them had eyeliner fiercer than Lizette even, with a fancy curl design drawn in black. Another had multiple gold chains layered in perfect symmetry that glistened against her muted skin. Lizette knew by the color of her necklaces they were solid gold, not the type that grew algae after a few showers. Somehow Pretty Kitty has inspired them to play dress up. Wolves in sheep’s clothing, she thought.
Although they were a decade younger than Lizette, she could still spy a prep school girl anywhere. It was something about the way they carried themselves, nonchalant and like they could see right through you as if you did not exist that reminded Lizette of high school. The Becky in the seat next to her had stuck what she presumed was diet soda in Lizette’s cup holder as soon as she arrived. Of course she thought it belonged to her. It reminded her of how for a whole semester freshman year she had to remind her lab partner what her name was.
The crowd began to chant, “Lupita, Lupita,” with evangelical fervor.
“Who is Lupita?” the middle Becky asked.
Becky closest to Lizette shrugged. “I thought her name was Pretty Kitty.” Lizette took calming breaths which she followed by chugging her tequila soda. Pretty Kitty began to sing her anthem “Choco Taco,” a tribute to her genitalia. Her hips orbited around the stage to the thumping beat. Lizette mimicked her and sang along to the chorus which were the only lyrics her monolingual heart could memorize.
“Ugh, these people don’t even know her songs,” Lizette grumbled.
“Babe, you barely know Spanish yourself,” Jeff reminded her.
“Whatever. It’s not the same,” she argued. She hated that he was right. Lizette had in fact looked up the lyric translation online several times. She blamed her parents. It was their fault she had been robbed of her language. They grew up in the 1950’s when rulers were used to smack the Spanish out of you. They thought they were doing Lizette a favor by keeping the language concealed like a pile of dirty magazines.
Las Beckys all held their phones in the air to capture every second of the performance. Lizette waited for their frail arms to tire from being outstretched as if they were singing praise songs. They never did. As Lizette’s luck would have it, the tallest one in the group claimed the seat closest to her. By the third song, tall Becky had wedged herself in front of Lizette, her sharp elbow stabbing her in the chest as she occupied most of Lizette’s space.
“Do you mind scooting over?” Lizette yelled.
Tall Becky turned around annoyed. This was the first time she acknowledged Lizette.
"I think we have all these seats,” she informed Lizette as she motioned to the entire row. Lizette whipped out her ticket and pointed to her seat number. “This is my seat.” Tall Becky shrugged all the while her phone remained in the sky capturing the magic that was Pretty Kitty. Lizette glared at Jeff like this was his fault. He put his arm around her shoulder and swayed to the beat to lure her back into the moment. She shook him off and instead climbed onto her chair. She refused to allow Las Beckys to have a better time than her.
Lizette towered over the crowd as she stood atop her seat, beaming with triumph like she had just climbed Mount Olympus. She pulled out her phone and hit record as she gyrated to the music. “Babe, the signs say no standing on chairs,” Jeff pointed out. Lizette tuned him out and continued to grind her hips while her butt swatted his face. Possessed by the spirit of Pretty Kitty, she belted the few lyrics she knew as if she was seducing Jeff with a serenade.
A security guard waved his finger at Lizette but she ignored him as well. She closed her eyes, surrendering to the psilocybin that allowed the music to swallow her. Jeff tugged at the back of her jeans. Annoyed, Lizette opened her eyes as a security guard reached from the aisle to grip her arm.
“M’am, let’s go. I tried telling you. No standing on the seats.”
“But she’s been blocking my view all night,” Lizette protested, pointing to tall Becky who paid no attention to her or the security guard. The guard shook his head. Another one appeared behind him. He waved a flashlight on Lizette’s face which revealed smeared iridescent makeup on her cheeks. She shielded her eyes as the security guard pulled her into the aisle. The older couple looked at Lizette with pity and mouthed an apology. Jeff tried his best to argue with the guards but they remained unconvinced.
The crowd shouted, “Diosa, diosa!” as Lizette slunk out. She paused but couldn’t bear to turn around to see La Lupita, goddess of the Americas, in her glory. This was worse than any walk of shame.
Jeff cradled the small of her back with his palm as they made their way through the stadium. By the time they arrived at the exit, her face had melted into a soggy puddle. From the time Lizette was in elementary school, she’d been cheated out of being who she felt she should be, always the sole brown girl in her class. When she would go to her friend’s homes, their nannies attempted to make conversation. She would give it her best shot only to eventually concede, “I don’t speak Spanish.” They never looked at her the same after that and sometimes, she even suspected their contempt. It wasn’t until La Lupita/Pretty Kitty emerged as an American phenomenon that Lizette was inspired to find some way to reclaim her roots.
La Lupita was brash with her Latin pride, uncensored, and refused to address American media and fans in English despite being more than proficient. She sold out stadiums in minutes and earned mainstream accolades like artist of the year and high fashion endorsements. She had become a global pop star in her celestial body, powerful enough to bring together a trio of Beckys, a woman like Lizette, and bounds of brown girls who reflected Lizette’s teenage dreams all to worship at her feet. In all these ways she was the antidote to her mother’s gospel that she must conform to succeed.
Pretty Kitty gave Lizette permission to claw her way back home, wherever that might be. Lizette was generations removed from knowing where she was “really from,” as men always demanded to know of her. Yet she clung to the idea of La Lupita as some sort of return to a mythical place of origin. La Lupita had pitched a tent for huddled masses and somehow Lizette in her sense of homelessness managed to crawl her way in as well.
When they emerged from the stadium’s cave, Lizette shivered. She caught sight of her reflection in the glass. She grimaced at the amount of raw abdomen she could see and crossed her arms to cover her exposed body. The girls she had fawned over just hours before stared as Lizette sniffled and hobbled her way to the rideshare lot, her scrawny heels collapsing into pavement cracks every few steps. She wiped the smudged makeup that had leaked under her eyes with the back of her palm. Jeff tried to hold her hand but she shook him off so she could continue to shield her cleavage. They could see a show in a different city, he would pay for it, Jeff offered. Maybe she could issue a complaint, get a refund. Jeff’s desire to help only cemented her humiliation. There was no consolation for this type of shame.
Everywhere vendors sang about hot dogs. “Hawt dowg, hawt dowg” a woman shouted as she flicked peppers and onions around a pan that sat atop her cart. The smell of grease and grilled onions aroused Lizette’s nose. A bite of a bacon wrapped hot dog would be what she could sink her sorrows into.
“How much?” she asked the woman.
“Twenty?!” Lizette parroted back with outrage.
Jeff reached for his wallet. Lizette put her hand on his arm to stop him.
“Robbery!” she announced.
It was the ultimate insult to injury. Her once sacred street food had quadrupled in price. “They ruin everything,” she mumbled to no one.
“Who?” Jeff asked.
Lizette couldn’t muster the strength to explain this tragic circle. Tonight was a singular moment for this woman to exploit the hunger of rich concert-goers who wouldn’t think twice when presented with overpriced street food. A wave of shame tumbled over Lizette. She couldn’t blame this woman for her hustle. As much as Lizette pitied herself for being swindled of her culture, this woman’s livelihood was at stake. Half of her earnings probably went to the city just to operate with a permit.
Defeated, Lizette sat down on the curb. She pulled her phone out and searched for the best picture she could find from her brief stint inside the show. She found the perfect selfie. Her makeup still looked airbrush perfect and you could see La Lupita squarely in the background in a power pose, microphone in the air. Lizette’s acrylic nails clacked on her phone as she typed, “Best night ever. Viva La Lupita.” With a tap of her finger, she posted as she waited for a string of hearts to illuminate her screen.