Quinceanera, which is Spanish for Sweet 15, is a very popular celebration in the Spanish community. This is a very special day to both the mother and the daughter. This day signifies the transformation from a little girl to a young lady. It is a way of introducing a new woman to society. Turning 15 is the most important birthday for Spanish communities. Quinceaneras tend to be a big and elegant celebration in which every family member and friends collaborate to give the birthday girl the best party she has ever had. To my understanding every Sweet 15 was celebrated the same in every Spanish country.
But after attending my friend’s Brazilian Sweet 15 my opinion has changed for the better. My friend Stephane Rene and I were invited to a Sweet 15 a couple weeks ago. The birthday girl was related to one of our friend, Kim. At first, I did not even think of using this event to write my paper because I thought that I knew what a Sweet 15 was all about. I was primarily going to focus on the Brazilian culture because even though my friend is Brazilian I had never had the opportunity to share an event with Brazilians being the dominant group.
But soon after the ceremony got started I found myself surprised and amused of what was in front of me. First, there is ceremony before the reception which is held at a church. The family is catholic therefore the ceremony was held at the catholic church of the town. After everybody was sitting down, Jennily walked down the aisle toward the front of the church. Here, the priest was waiting to give her the appropriated blessings. She was wearing a long gorgeous pink silky dress which represented her new status as a young woman. Jennily was also wearing soft pink slippers which she would change later into a more elaborate one.
I was familiar with the ceremony at the church before the party because it is a way of blessing her and to appreciate her day of celebration which simultaneously represents her rebirth as a woman. But I did not hesitate to ask one of the family members, what did it signify to them to be blessed by the priest the day of her birthday? To my surprise, thru their blessings they also pray for her future and her new start. Once the priest was done, her aunt and uncle stood up and recall her first fifteen years of life in a very sentimental and biographical speech.
Throughout the speech they kept referring back to how fulfilled and thankful they are of her excitants. Following the speech, Jennily walked out and besides her were her 15 of her closest friends. There were fifteen friends, 7 boys and 7 girls and one male companion for the Quincenera adding up to 16. This was very interesting to me because in my culture the birthday girl gets to have 15 girls and 15 boys to escort her. According to Bruno, Jennily’s cousin, this represents every year she was born plus one more year for good luck.
After leaving the church the families proceed to go outside the church to capture on film every moment of this one in a lifetime event. The Sweet 15 girl, Jennily, took pictures with everybody, this is a very important day and most be remember even by those who did not attend. While this is happening other relatives and friends leave to where the reception will be held so they can be there before the birthday girl arrived. The photo shoot also gives time for people to settle down at the location and to prepare Jennily’s big entrance. When we arrived at the reception, almost everybody was already there.
Everybody was well dressed, women were wearing long dresses and the men were wearing suit and tie. Everybody was behaving in a very calm and friendly matter. As I looked around to get familiar with the place and the people, I noticed the table of food. Of course food is one of the main things to Spanish people. The table was completed with the most delightful and most well-known Spanish dishes such as salad, lasagna, platanos (plantains), sopa de pollo (homemade chicken soup), pernil (smoked pork), empanadas, and rice with beans, corn, and meat.
As I was sitting down, the Disc Jockey stated playing music and everybody stood up applauding. The Disc Jockey introduced Jennily and all 15 of her friends. As the birthday girl made her entrance, her escorts also known as Damas y Caballeros, where around the chair that was made especially for her. She was greeted by her mother and father whom both looked thrill. After everybody sits back down, the Damas y Caballeros proceed to do the usual dance and it ends with the traditional dance of the Quincenera and her father.
After the dance with the dad and daughter is over, the mother made a toast to congratulate her daughter for making her the proudest mom alive. Then, they moved on to the second part which was the changing of the shoes. Her father changed her slippers to dress shoes. According to one of the people that I interviewed, Bruno, said that the replacement of the shoes symbolizes the steps for a new beginning and her new status a woman and not a little girl. Bruno is Jennily’s uncle that moved to the Unite States about five years ago.
It was a little hard for me to communicate with people at this party because of the language. Luckily I became friends with Bruno and his wife. They guide me through the entire event and explain why everything was the way it was. Furthermore, something that was very new to me was the fact that after exchanging the shoes her aunt applied make-up on her which for the Brazilian culture symbolizes the adult that she is now becoming. The second person that I interview was the birthday girl. I asked her how she felt about the party, decorations and guest.
She told me she was so thrill her parents were able to celebrate her dream birthday. She also told me that she was a little embarrassed at the beginning but soon realized that every woman goes through this moment in her life. Also, she was very grateful to be fortunate enough to have all of her relatives and friends there with her. Jennily’s Sweet 15 party was the most well-coordinate and elegant party that I have ever been too. Nothing at this party was by accident. From the make-up, the food, the dress, ceremony, toast, to the dance, everything symbolized their tradition and meant something culturally.
Once I got past the language difference, I enjoyed the party to the fullest. At first, they were all looking at me as the out-group, the person that did not share the same background as them. I myself felt a little uncomfortable because I did not know exactly how to act or what to say. I was used to having merengue, salsa all night long. But they had their own Brazilian music and it was arranged from slow to the most upbeat and fast music. At the end of the party, no only did I learn how to dance to Brazilian music but I learned a little Portuguese as well.
After having learned the different theories in which human behavior are based, the culture shock was not as severe. The theoretical framework that best interprets this event is interpretive anthropology. This theory says that human behavior tracks from the way people perceive and classify the world around them. I experience this first hand in the five hours that I spent with Jennily’s family. As soon as I arrived to the party I placed some unconscious stereotypes to the way I thought they were going to behave. Even though, they proved me wrong in my conscious they were still doing what I expected them to do.
On the other hand, I realized that I was not the only one that was placing this rules as to what I expected them to be like. They themselves have these norms that have been placed by their own culture that they followed. For example, everybody was expected to be dress extremely elegant and act a certain way. If done otherwise, they would be rudely criticized by members of the same group. Actually, they would be more penalized by they own people than an outsider because it would make no difference for me to see someone of their group acting a particular way.
In actuality, it would be hard for me to notice that there is something a little odd. Regardless of the difference of culture, language and customs, I learned so much about the Brazilian culture in the United States. For example, they have huge families like Dominicans and they stay together as a community one hundred percent. In addition, I myself might incorporate some of their traditions onto mine, maybe not for myself but for my cousins and even for my future daughter. I like they way in which everything was very detailed and organized.
Also, I liked how everything had a meaning and a reason for being there. This party has motivated me to go out there and explore all the different cultures that exist in the society that I live in. This event has also taught me a lesson about life, in order for us to find ourselves we need to identify with our ancestors and continue our traditions. There is nothing more pretty than being able to bring our beliefs and customs with us. This is what identifies who we are, and who are children would be.