The invitation for El Museo del Barrio’s annual gala, an evening of dinner and dancing to benefit the museum, enticed guests with the promise “Governor Paterson to celebrate his birthday with the Mariachis.”
Indeed, as Cipriani 42nd Street filled with ornate gowns and the buzz of Spanish chitchat on Wednesday, May 20, Governor David Paterson, whose 55th birthday happened to fall on the same day, arrived with his wife, Michelle Paterson.
“I asked Michelle for a suggestion as to what we should do for my birthday and she said whatever we do, we have to come to the reception for El Museo del Barrio,” Mr. Paterson told the Daily Transom. “So I said, ‘O.K., that sounds like a good idea!'”
The governor said he happened to represent the museum during his last four years in the State Senate. “I think I stopped at the gala my first year, when I was reapportioned into East Harlem in 2003. So it’s actually my second time here, but they seem to recognize me quicker this time.”
Will the governor be doing some dancing?
“It’s possible,” he replied. “But we actually have another event to go to afterwards so we may not be around for the dancing.”
At last year’s gala, the women were asked to wear tiaras, white gowns and elbow-length gloves to fit the quinceañera theme—a Latin version of the sweet sixteen, but more formal. This year, attention was drawn to portraits of Latino New Yorkers like Carolina Herrera, Narciso Rodriguez and John Leguizamo that the gala’s co-chair, illustrator Ruben Toledo, completed with the help of the children at the museum. Also on sale were cigar boxes, again illustrated by Mr. Toledo.
Gala chair Yaz Hernandez said she would purchase a box for her husband, Citibank exec Valentin Hernandez. Ms. Hernandez, wearing a mermaid-cut white Angel Sanchez dress with black detailing, said she does not smoke cigars, but enjoys the smell.
“I love it. Love the smell,” she gushed in her lovely Spanish accent. “I grew up with it. I find it sexy and fabulous and so delicious and so mun-ly! I love it.”
Mr. Toledo and wife Isabel Toledo arrived arm in arm, he in a snug suit and black tie, she in a beautifully-tailored floral dress. Despite designing the cigar boxes, Mr. Toledo said he does not actually smoke cigars.
“I don’t even smoke cigarettes. I’m a bore,” he said. “I don’t smoke and I don’t drink.”
And all this time we thought that pencil-thin mustache was a sign of mischief!
“Nah, I’m a devil, but not in a typical way,” he replied. In fact, Mr. Toledo said we might catch some of his devilish ways on the dance floor later. “All Latinos dance, you have to dance! See, for Spanish people—and I’m generalizing here—body language is like an intelligence, you gotta know how to use your body.”
In the background, the mariachi band began to sing “Happy Birthday,” or rather the Spanish version, “Feliz Cumpleaños,” to Governor Paterson. The governor did not dance but seemed to enjoy the sentiment. And after Ms. Hernandez presented him with a large white cake that read “El Museo Saluda al Gov. Paterson” in red frosting, it was time for the governor to move on to his next birthday engagement.
“Happy Birthday!” exclaimed Mr. Toledo. “You must meet my wife. Oh, do you really have to go now?”
“Yes, we really must go,” replied the governor.