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Quinceaneras...a coming of age
One day last January, Annaa Laura Lopez put on a pair of tennis shoes, as might any child or teenager getting ready for school or the playground.
But this occasion was different. Along with the sneakers, Annaa Laura wore a long, flowing formal dress as she walked down a church aisle, then stood before for a gathering of more than 1,000 people, all witnesses to promises she was making in a speech to serve God, her church, her family and community.
In a reception in that followed the mass, Annaa Laura's father Mario removed the tennis shoes, exchanging them for a pair of high heels.
Annaa Laura had worn the tennis shoes to church to symbolize her childhood and youth she was leaving behind. The switch for a formal shoe represented her transition to womanhood.
The ceremony was a quinceanera, a traditional celebration held by Latino families in Yuma, throughout the Southwest and in neighboring Mexico to mark their daughters' 15th birthdays.
The significance of that milestone wasn't lost on Annaa Laura, a student at Cibola High School.
“I was kind of nervous,” she said recently, recalling the quinceanera service at St. Francis Catholic Church. “‘I'm a grownup,' I was thinking. ‘I have all these responsibilities. I'm a woman now, I'm changing now.'”
A quinceanera is sometimes likened to a Sweet 16 celebration or a debutante's coming out party, and in the reception later at the Quechan Casino and Resort, Annaa Laura was feted with a multi-layered cake and DJ music and dancing that lasted till midnight.
But implicit in the Annaa Laura's quinceanera were the obligations that would stay with her long after the party, indeed throughout life.
“You're coming of age,” said her mother, Anna Lopez. “And that entails new responsibilities, and it also entails setting an example.”
By setting example, Lopez, means serving as a role model for next generation of girls who are approaching 15.
Annaa Laura is the youngest of the Lopezes' two daughters. Daughter Brenda, now 19, and studying nutrition and dietetics at Arizona State University in Tempe, had her quinceanera in June 2007 at St. Francis.
That ceremony served as example to Brenda's sister about the importance of accepting adult responsibilities, said their mother, and Annaa Laura, while not having a younger sibling, is now has the task of passing along the same lessons to other girls in her extended family.
As part of her quinceanera, Lopez recalled, Brenda passed along a doll to Annaa Laura, signifying that the elder sister was leaving behind childhood and handing off a tradition to her sister. That doll today is kept in a chest for the day Annaa Laura gives it to one of her relatives or even her own daughter on the occasion of that girl's quinceanera.
Brenda and Annaa Laura, in turn, inherited the quinceanera tradition from their mother.
Lopez, today a counselor who works with special education students in the five elementary schools in the Crane School District, marked her own coming of age with the traditional service and a reception at what was then the Stardust hotel at 4th Avenue and 24th Street. The quinceanera not only brought together her friends and family in Yuma but relatives from Mexico.
“It was a beautiful experience,” Lopez recalled, “and that's why I wanted my daughters to have the same experience.”
But there was a condition: The underlying values that the Lopezes sought to instill in their daughters – those of service to God, family and community – would not be lost amid the glitz and glitter and music of the celebration that followed.
“You're graduating your kids,” said Lopez. “You're teaching them the values they might not learn in school. You're teaching them to be productive members of their communities.”
Annaa Laura wants to follow her sister to ASU to study the journalism, with the ultimate goal of going to New York to work for the “Today” show and even dancing on Broadway. But for the time being, the Cibola sophomore has been juggling her studies with volunteering for such organizations and events as Crossroads Mission and the Relay for Life fund-raising walk to benefit cancer victims.
By the time a quinceanera takes place, Lopez said, a family can have easily have spent a year's time in planning and arranging such details as choosing and renting a hall for the reception, selecting the theme and theme colors for the reception, decorating the hall to match the theme, picking out the dresses and clothing worn by the girl and the members of her court, ordering the dinner menu and cake, lining up the photographer and the music, and sending out invitations. And the total cost may well equal the expense of a wedding.
Lopez concedes some of her friends and acquaintances question the value of investing so much time and money on what amounts to a birthday celebration, one that happens only a few years before the family has to deal with other large expenses like the daughter's college education or wedding.
But for Lopez, a girl's 15th birthday is a pivotal moment, one worthy of a send-off to adulthood and what the family hopes and expects will be a productive, happy and well-lived life.
Having been through the experiences of her own quinceanera plus two more for her daughters, Lopez has some advice for parents whose daughters are about to celebrate their 15th birthdays:
• Don't lose sight of the reason for the quinceanera: your daughter's passage into the adulthood, and all the joys and responsibilities that come with the transition. While friends and relatives want to have a hand in planning and staging the quinceanera, don't let them take over, says Lopez, who says she has seen quinceaneras marred by bickering over such details as what will be worn by everyone in the girl's court.
A quinceanera is all about the girl who is making the transition as a woman, and no one else.
• Follow up to make sure your daughter is adhering to the vows she made in her quinceanera service, Lopez said.
• Allocate a year's time in preparations for the quinceanera, Lopez says, given that parents are arranging the event while juggling their obligations. For Annaa Laura, Lopez went online and found a planning guide that spelled out all quinceaneras and a timetable for completing them. Lopez suggests other parents likewise consult a guide.
After all, she said, “it's like a wedding.”