LSS: On La Quinceanera

Apr 15th, 2012 by Jan in Uncategorized

My husband’s family came to the United States from Mexico when he a young boy. Their family did what families do when they move to a place and blend cultures.

They became the new place, but the Mexican-ness still stands.

His family’s passion for their culture has further convinced me that no group can corner the market on pride in its heritage. Large segments of every culture believe their own way of life to offer the best food, the best traditions (even religious ones), the best holidays and the deepest love for their families.

Here in Cajun Louisiana, we do our best to be certain that our daughters know as much as possible about their dad’s heritage and traditions.

That goal was only one of the reasons that months ago we decided to host a Quinceañera for Greer, our daughter who is nearing her 15th birthday. La Quinceañera is a rite of passage for 15-year-old girls of Latin descent. It includes a full Mass at church, specifically designed around the Quinceañera and a party afterward.

The event has been an opportunity to reflect on how fast time flies and our daughter’s burgeoning place in the world. La Quinceañera represents a young girl being escorted into adulthood by her family, witnessed by her community, which includes a full court of 15 of her friends — seven girls and eight boys who learn and perform an elaborate waltz for the gathering. Our court has practiced for months on this dance. Watching the beautiful awkward teenagerness transform into grace has been a thing of beauty.

In essence, during the Quinceañera, the girl steps through an invisible door as a child and comes out the other side as an adult. (Yes, it’s a stretch, but that’s the goal!)

Researchers have proven that the origins of the Quinceañera are traced to ancient customs of the Aztecs. However, the ceremony and its symbolism are similar to other, early cultural initiation rites that occurred throughout the world. Few of which have carried through into our contemporary world.

I have a confession. When I started planning this event with my daughter, I focused a lot of energy on how much fun the party could be and how much fun it would be to see everyone. As I’ve done more research, I’ve realized and come to appreciate its value on so many other levels.

When La Quinceañera emerges on the other side of the invisible door she is choosing to step through, she does so a young woman with new responsibilities. Those who know and love her will see and treat her differently from this day forward. It’s a living affirmation of the adage: To whom much is given, much is required.

Even though we’re all exhausted from the extra work, planning, cooking and socializing, our little event — meager by many standards — has been a good thing for our family.

Specifically, it’s been good for our daughter. Fourteen can be an uncomfortable age for a girl, but in the last few months, she has flourished with the positive attention and appreciated the chance for extra time with friends practicing their Quinceañera waltz. I’m a firm believer that our society needs more positive rites of passage that offer a chance for the almost-adults among us to be challenged to be more responsible. Sometimes a defining point, even a choreographed one, helps bring home the fact of one’s place in the world.

Even in this slightly unorthodox Louisiana version of a Latin American institution, it marks a special event that happens only once in a girl’s life. It has been a time for rejoicing and reflecting on the miracle of life and reaffirming our commitment to family, friends, tradition and community.

Jan Risher’s column runs every Sunday. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.

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