From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

My Fundillo (All the Wrong Places)

Being Latina is a way of life, the way you feel and relate to others. It’s a way of communicating, understanding and expressing yourself.

Claudia Yelín

There I was, sitting in a top-floor tenement walk-up in the Bronx, waiting for the ’80s to be over. You remember the ’80s? Bad clothes. Bad hair. For me, it was high school. Or more specifically, tenth grade, where my best friend, Joanie Boom-Boom, vogued through the girls’ locker room in her new black lace bra like it was a trophy.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t jealous. I know that for most people, the female rite of passage is getting your boobs, but for Latinas our body part of choice is the buttocks. This is the cheeky skeleton in the Latina closet, the five happy words to describe one’s bottom: culito, nalgas, fundillo, cheecho and delicioso!

Now you might say everyone has a bottom, and of course they do. It’s just not the perfect Latina bottom: not too wide in the hips, yet full and meaty across the beam. Not as high as a bubble butt, but completely lifted off the back of the thighs. Picture two teardrop-shaped globes of firm, pliant, undimpled muscle, with built-in rack-and-pinion steering that allows each cheek to undulate separately from the other even when its proud owner stands completely still. There was no escaping this perfect posterior in my house. Every salsa album cover had one, and every merengue album had two. Every novia on every novela on Channel 47 had one. My sixty-year-old abuela had one. My thirteen-year-old cousin, Evie, had one. Every Latin woman in NYC had one. Except me.

I was a normal teenager otherwise. I just had this one problem. I didn’t have a butt! And to the women in my family, this was a disaster that needed to be prevented, a catastrophe that needed to be averted, a disease that needed to be cured.

My titi Carmen said, “Pray for her.” My titi Ophelia said, “Stop feeding her,” and after I walked by, “Ay no, hide her till she’s twenty-one.” And then my mom said, “Listen to me, all of you. No daughter of mine is going to be a gordita.

” My mom, Lucy, was the Jackie O. of East 103rd Street. She never raised her voice, never cursed, and was never seen in public without full makeup, high heels and stockings. After twenty years of marriage and two babies, she still weighed exactly the same as the day she got married: ninety-eight pounds—seventy pounds of which was butt. And she was convinced that with the right makeup, diet and foundation garments, her little gordiflona would be transformed into una gran mamichula.

Now I wasn’t really fat, they just thought I was because I didn’t have a shape. Their shape. Pear shape. So I tried it my mom’s way. I ate plain boiled chicken with no rice or beans. I let her buy me control-top panties. And still, no butt. I was sure there was something else wrong with me. Maybe I was adopted. Maybe I should go talk to someone who really knew about such things. And so I went to see my best friend, Joanie Boom-Boom.

Safe in the teenage sanctuary of Joanie’s room, I spilled my guts about my lack of development. “You’re just a child,” she said. “You’ll grow . . . someday.” Then she started admiring herself in the mirror. I went into the bathroom, checked out my butt in the mirror and cried. No matter how far I twisted around, all I could see was . . . nothing. Joanie was right. I would be at least thirty before I looked like a woman, and by then I would be too old to enjoy it. I went back to her room to say good-bye and there she was, still enraptured by her reflection in the mirror, but now stuffing wad after wad of tissue paper into each cup of that black lace bra. Instead of being angry that she was cheating, I realized something about being a woman. If she could stuff her bra, why couldn’t I stuff my bottom? Her secret would be safe with me.

I laughed, and Joanie turned around.

“How long have you been standing there?” she asked.

“Uh, I just got here,” I lied. “Let’s go get pizza.”

For the rest of the weekend, I finally had something behind me I could be proud of. Sort of. It shifted around a lot, and I couldn’t really sit down or it would flatten out, so I walked around the house as if I were holding a dime between my cheeks, just like my mom said a real mujer walked. But my family—who could spot unplucked eyebrows at thirty paces—didn’t notice a thing, even when I shimmied it right in front of them. I couldn’t believe they couldn’t see the total and complete transformation of my body. But that was okay, because the next day at school, I was sure all my friends would.

Everything was fine until gym class, when I realized I would have to get undressed. I tried to hide in a corner, but of course Joanie saw me and came over. I turned around with my back toward the lockers and Joanie said, “Hey, Michele, you got something weird hanging out of your . . .” And she pulled a ten-foot-long trail of Charmin out of the back of my underwear and into the cold fluorescent light of the locker room.

“Oh, my God!” she shrieked. “Michele stuffs her butt! Michele stuffs her butt!”

Everyone in the locker room froze. I knew my life was over, and there was only one thing left to do. I pushed Joanie over a bench, and as she fell, her black lace bra popped open and out flew enough pink Kleenex for every Ortiz funeral parlor in the Bronx and half of Brooklyn. As the entire locker room howled, Joanie leaped on me. She pulled my hair, and I tried to strangle her with what was left of my toilet-paper tail. Finally, a teacher pulled us apart. We were both suspended for three days.

My family didn’t take it very well.

Titi Carmen said, “Take her to church.” Titi Ophelia said, “Take her to jail.” My mom just said, “How could you?”

I wasn’t sure if she meant the stuffing or the fight.

And while everyone around me argued, I grew. Almost five inches in two years. The extra ten pounds around my middle somehow migrated just the right distance, and if I may say so, produced some of the finest nalgas in my entire familia!

Michele Carlo

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners