Latinos rarely need an excuse to don their best threads and party. And as last week’s first annual Latin Grammy Awards in L.A. proved once again, we do it with sabor.

Having cashed in my frequent-flyer miles to mingle with the Latinrati on the left coast, I made it into the Staples Center’s nosebleed section only by trying to pass myself off as Colombian songstress Shakira’s cousin, then begging. Finally, nestled in between other wannabes, I watched all five white N’ Sync boys croon about heartbreak in Spanish. “Si siente un frío tu corazón,” the blondest one belted out, even rolling his rs. When his crew was joined by the leather-clad amigos of Son by Four, it looked like a happy West Side Story. Dressed in flaming red and sporting a colored-in birthmark, half-Ecuadorian toothpick Christina Aguilera exaggerated her Hispanic element, too; the traditional ballad she sang between two strumming guitarists came off more intense than you’d expect.

The true star was probably blue-wigged institution Celia Cruz, paying homage to her late friend Tito Puente and throwing the festivities into perspective with her signature phrase: ¡Azúcar! But no one got as much love from the audience as my diminutive relative Shakira, who laid out her Middle Eastern roots with “Ojos Así.” Amid flaming torches and dancers pulling long veils from her swaying hips, she belly danced the evening into an Arabian night.