MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Well, today is Valentine's Day. Of course, there are the haters who say the holiday is just another made up excuse to sell stuff - chocolate and roses and such. But our friends at Alt.Latino, NPR's Latino art and culture podcast, are reclaiming it for love on their show this week. Host Jasmine Garsd set up a table in Union Square Park in New York City and asked random people walking by to share their deepest love stories.
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: And believe it or not, a lot of people showed up to talk to us. But we'll just share two stories here today. Let's start with one woman named Maria. She asked that we drop her last name because it's kind of an embarrassing story about her first crush, with all the excitement and butterflies in the stomach and all those memories that are still so fresh even decades later.
MARIA: Where I grew up, a lot of people are Jewish, so seventh grade was Bar and Bat Mitzvahs the whole time. So, you know, every weekend there's a party, and either you're invited or you're not. But this guy's bar mitzvah was the first one. So my mother was like, you know, you need to dress very well. You need to be - you don't want to seem, like, underdressed. It'll be the end of the world - Latina-Peruvian mother - it's the end of the world. So I show up for the service part 'cause there's a service in the morning and then most people have the party at night. And I am dressed like someone from "Little House On The Prairie" - like a full wool skirt all the way to my knees, this big blouse and, like, a wool vest over it. Well, everyone else is just wearing, like, khakis and a regular shirt. And I am mortified (laughter) like mortified at the entire thing 'cause I - I look stupid in front of my peers. And not just do I look stupid in front of my peers, but I look stupid in front of my peers, in front of the boy who I'm meant to be with for the rest of my life on the day that he is becoming a man. I call my mother. You know, I'm balling. I'm just balling in the car. And my mom when there was an argument, my mom always won - always one. It was the one time I think it was just such devastation. We went straight to a department store, and I got to pick out a new outfit for the night. So the boy that I loved, this is the dance - the night of the party was coming, so I was like all right, I have a second chance. I can redeem myself.
GARSD: You came back like in the telenovellas.
MARIA: (Laughter) Well, it's funny you should say that because what I picked out was an all-velvet outfit. It was velvet, like, silver leopard-print pants and a black velvet cami and a little, like, silver velvet shawl. And I was, like, I am ready, like, he will be mine - oh, yes. So it's the first dance of the night. A few of the girls - maybe his cousins, family, they're just like pick me, pick me. And I'm standing there quietly. And he's just like Maria, would you like to dance? And I was like absolutely, and Selena's "Dreaming Of You" is the song that's playing.
GARSD: It's too perfect.
MARIA: It's too perfect. He starts to pull me close, and I put my arms further away because my mother was like always leave room for the Holy Ghost. So (laughter) in my, like, seventh grade, middle-school way, I'm just like forget it. I'm going to be wild. And I go in close, and we have our first slow-dance with each other to Selena.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMING OF YOU")
SELENA: (Singing) Because I'm dreaming of you tonight 'til tomorrow, I'll be holding you tight. And there's nowhere in the world I'd rather be than here in my room, dreaming about you and me.
GARSD: As Maria was sharing the story of her first love for our Valentine's Day special, we notice a man standing by us looking hesitant, like he had a great story to tell. It wasn't hard to convince T.C., as he calls himself, to sit with us and talk about how he met the woman who would be his wife over a game of chess.
T.C.: I seen her playing chess. I asked, could I get next? She was like, yeah. She kicked my butt over and over and over, belittled me. There's guys around, all that, you know - ooh, wow, all that stuff, you know? And that messed with my ego. Oh, man, I walked out with my head down. Now I've got to go study.
GARSD: T.C. brushed off his bruised ego and signed up for some chess lessons.
T.C.: Three years later, here I come again. Oh, the (unintelligible) wore off. Yes, it's a new sheriff in town, though. I've been studying. And bam, beat her the first game, bam, beat her second game, third game.
GARSD: Would you say that the game of chess is similar to the game of love, in a way?
T.C.: No because what if you lose, lose, lose, lose? That means you're losing in love? It's always right there in front of you - just be natural, be yourself. That person will pop up. Somewhere, somehow, someday you're going to meet somebody. It's just going to happen. Next thing you know, you're falling in love.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT YOU BACK")
JACKSON 5: (Singing) Oh, baby, give me one more chance. Won't you...
MARTIN: You can hear more love stories on this Valentine's Day by downloading the Alt.Latino podcast at npr.org/altlatino.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT YOU BACK")
JACKSON 5: (Singing) But now since I see you in his arms. (I want you back) Oh, I do now. (I want you back) Ooh, ooh, baby. (I want you back) Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah (I want you back) na, na, na, na. Trying to live without your love is one more sleepless night. Let me show you, girl... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.