And all I hear is the clapping when the music stops. My uncle and me bow and he walks me back in my thick shoes to my mother who is proud to be my mother. All night the boy who is a man watches me dance. He watched me dance.

At a large family party honoring a cousin’s baptism and surrounded by her extended family, Esperanza overcomes her shyness and self-consciousness about her shoes and successfully dances with her uncle. Earlier in the party a young boy asked her to dance. Though she declined, she remains conscious of his eyes upon her. Esperanza’s feelings about dancing show that she’s becoming aware of boys and starting to realize that she can attract them.

Everything is holding its breath inside me. Everything is waiting to explode like Christmas. I want to be all new and shiny. I want to sit out bad at night, a boy around my neck and the wind under my skirt. Not this way, every evening talking to the trees, leaning out my window, imagining what I can’t see.

As Esperanza becomes more sexually aware, she comes to the attention of Sire, an older boy in the neighborhood. Esperanza’s father calls him a punk and tells her not to talk to him. Perhaps because of her father’s warning, Esperanza feels attracted to Sire, even though he has a girlfriend, Lois. She watches Lois and Sire and wonders about what they do together. Sire and Lois represent the romance that she wants to experience, seen through the distorted lens of naivete. She feels flattered to know Sire watches her and does not understand the danger in his behavior.

In the movies there is always one with red lips who is beautiful and cruel. She is the one who drives the men crazy and laughs them all away. Her power is her own. She will not give it away.

By observing Marin, Sally, and other more sexually mature girls, Esperanza begins to realize that sexuality gives women a certain kind of power over men. But her experience remains limited, so her understanding of this power comes mostly from films. She imagines herself as the manipulative bad girl of the movies. This fantasy role allows her to express her sexuality while remaining independent and strong. Soon after she decides to be beautiful and cruel, Esperanza encounters the harsh realities of sexual power and learns to develop true strength of spirit.