Quinceaneras and Coming of Age as a Mexican-American

It is hard for my students to understand that Mexican is a dirty word in some stretches of middle America. Here in Brownsville, most of my freshman prefer Mexico to the United States in terms of life – not living standards, not poverty level, not economic potential or educational excellence, but vida life. Many of my high-school children do not understand why Brownsville is so quiet at night, why no one walks the streets after dark, why there are so many cul-de-sacs and so few nightclubs. Though they complain that Matamoros always floods after rain, these 14 and 15-year-olds prefer its untidy reality to the American sprawl they see in the strip malls and the vacant 30-story hotels in Brownsville’s historic downtown.

The wall proposed for the Rio Grande Valley and, locally, between Matamoros and Brownsville, would force my students to make a choice they should never have to make – between their cultural past and their economic future. The Secure Fence Act is selective division, and while none of us want a similar wall with Canada or on our Atlantic beach front, the wall seems to be a pointed affront to Latino culture. A border wall through la frontera here in Texas would make the hyphen between Mexican-American more like a minus sign than a symbol of cohesion.

Each xenophobic nativist and any anti-Mexican Minuteman would surely change his/her mind about a Mexican border wall if only they were invited to a quinceanera. This past Saturday I had the profound privilege to attend a the fifteenth-birthday celebration of one of my freshman ESL students. As is a rite of passage when driving in Mexico, my fiance and I got hopelessly lost. Every person we spoke to was very understanding of our direction-less driving, as well as the green coolant leaking out of my tired ’94 Dodge Spirit. Finally, we followed a kindly man and his wife to the Salon de Santa Fe.

Although we missed the religious ceremonies at La Iglesia San Juan de los Lagos, I was immediately struck by the profound meaning of the quinceanera. It was a beautiful event, less like a Sweet Sixteen birthday party and more like a full-blown wedding. Each table had elaborate floral arrangements, hors d’oeuvres, and decorations. We were escorted to our table by the mother of my English-as-a-Second-Language student. She speaks no English, but she is entrusting me and my fellow American teachers with her daughter’s education every week. Her daughter Vero leaves their Mexican house on Sunday evening, not to return until Friday night. Her mom can visit Vero on a day-visa, but she would be outside of the law if she tried to make a permanent residence north of the Rio Grande. Vero is torn between her mother’s love and her aptitude for academics, and so she makes the long trip across the narrow river every week. And all this at fifteen years old.

I beam with pride to see my young student say goodbye to childhood through several dances with her father, her tios, and her childhood boy friends. The Vero who waltzes with her father is the same Vero who aces my vocabulary tests in English. The same girl who giggles and screams unabashedly as she pulls out a kitten from her giant birthday box is the same staid student who always is on time, always helps others, always gives her all. The same girl going table to table to thank all her family friends of Mexico is the same Vero who blesses her newfound American community by volunteering many hours each month.

La frontera is more than just the last home for endangered animals like the ocelot and Sonoran Pronghorn; this borderland is also one of the few places in the United States that celebrates quinceaneras. The quinceanera is a proud moment where a girls’ entire community is able to affirm her life and celebrate her maturation into womanhood. It speaks to the best in Mexican culture. As we snack on avocados and pickled peppers and watch a slide show of her life, I wish all America could witness this beautiful celebration. Dancing cumbias and salsas alongside my students and their vecinos, singing corridos and romanticos with grandmothers and granddaughters, I realize this culture calls out the best in family. The world would do well to look to the Mexican mode of making events significant. In 2007, the Catholic Church officially recognized this profound event with its own liturgy; America and all people of faith could learn a lot about community from this Mexican tradition.

Loving God,
you created all the people of the world
and you know each of us by name.
We thank you for Vero,
who today celebrates her fifteenth birthday.
Bless her with your love and friendship
that she may grow in wisdom, knowledge, and grace.
May she love her family always
and be faithful to her friends.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

(Quinceanera Liturgy)

Driving back across the Mexican-American border checkpoint on the international bridge, past the barbed wire and racial profiling, past the sniffing dogs and warning signs, I ponder why anyone would want to wall off the culture of quinceaneras. While the United States is busy enacting bills like the REAL ID Act and the Secure Fence Act, students like Vero will continue coming of age in a multi-cultural community which is best when it learns from all its immigrants.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to “Quinceaneras and Coming of Age as a Mexican-American”

  1. Michael Seifert Says:

    A wonderful reflection. thank you.

  2. Mary Mardesich Says:

    Your article is very meaningful for me as I do want to support Elsa in her Spiritual & Life Directions. This will all be in Spanish & I have been to the Church many times & to the home of Elsa’s parents for Fiesta’s. They have planned their reception/Fiesta at their home.

    I provided the silk floral bouquet for Elsa. What I am trying to find out is:
    1. Will I have a role at the church?
    2. Will I have a special role at the Celebration?
    3. Because of your explanation, I plan to write to Elsa about my love & support for her. I will also arrange to have lunch/meet with her privately to discuss our relationship & how it can develop.

    Thank you,
    Mary Mardesich

  3. sandrar Says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: