This past weekend, I had the honor and pleasure of attending an event that is a highlight of nearly every young girl’s life in Latin America – a Quinceañera. My friend Edwin’s oldest daughter, Wendy, was turning 15, and I and a few of my friends were invited to join the festivities. I was excited to get to help celebrate and also witness this important cultural event. Growing up in Texas with a large Hispanic population, I was familiar with this tradition of celebrating a young lady’s “coming of age,” akin to the Jewish Batmitzvah at age 13, or the “Sweet 16” parties. In ages past, this was the time when the family was presenting their daughter as eligible to receive suitors for marriage. Of course, it has evolved into more of a tradition, but is still a milestone in a young girl’s life in this culture.
The Quinceañera event can come close to resembling a wedding, with families going all out for a dress, invitations, a band, dinner, etc. and spending into the thousands of dollars for an elaborate affair. However, thanks to Edwin’s connections, resources and a little help from friends, he managed to pull off quite a respectable event on a small budget.
The location was the beautiful club house and pool area in a gated community in Manta. Some of our friends, Robert and Galina, live there and arranged for the venue. I rode with my friend, Sigrid, and her friend Sheri, that was here visiting from Florida. We arrived at Robert and Galina’s home, which was the “staging area” for the family to get ready. Edwin’s mother and aunt flew all the way from New Jersey to attend the event. The invitation said 5:00 p.m., but true to Latin American time, we left their house about 6:15 and the guests didn’t really start arriving until 7:00!
Once the festivities began, there were many sweet rituals to witness. First, Wendy was seated in a chair and her father removed her flat “little girl” shoes and put on a pair of high healed sandals. Then, she was presented with a doll that represented her last “little girl” gift. She was to give that doll to one of her younger sisters (and she gave it to the youngest one, Anahi). After that, was the father/daughter dance. All her friends stood around in a circle, and several were holding glass jars with a candle. As Edwin danced her around the circle, Wendy bent over and blew out each candle one by one – 15 in all. At the end of that time, she was then passed off to dance with a special “caballero” (gentleman). The one she chose was her uncle (but don’t be fooled, her uncle was quite a dashing and young man!) Afterwards, all the immediate family gathered together and there was a champaign toast with us all. Finally, the party continued with “mucho bailando” – much dancing. And in case you didn’t know, Latin Americans LOVE to dance! A DJ played plenty of tunes that kept people on their feet for hours.
In the midst of all this, we were served a meal that included appetizers, a main course and sweet treats for dessert. Our fading “gringo group” bid everyone farewell around 10:30, but the party was still going strong (they hadn’t even cut the cake yet!)
I was so blessed to take part in this special celebration and I hope and pray as Wendy transitions into adulthood, that she continues to grow into the wonderful woman God created her to be.