Lupita’s Quinceanera in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Culture and Tradition

You might call it a coming out party or a debut to society if you lived in the United States of America thirty years ago. Some of my southern women friends participated in debutante balls just before women’s liberation took hold. For me, growing up in the wild west San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, California, I went to Sweet Sixteen parties given for my more affluent friends — though I never had one myself.

Lupita with her mom, grandma, Chambelanes, and attendants, after the Mass

Here in Teotitlan del Valle, the tradition of moving from girlhood to becoming a young woman is likely steeped village tradition as a rite of passage to marriage and motherhood. It was once celebrated quietly in homes with hot chocolate, bread or tortillas, a cup of mezcal, a parental blessing.

Lupita, not quite two years old. I’ve known her a long time!
Receiving gifts, 8 a.m. Saturday morning

Fifteen years ago, there may have been a gathering of extended family members numbering fewer than 100 people who came together to recognize this coming of age. There was probably a mass at the church followed by a late afternoon dinner, followed by a traditional ritual village dance called the Jarabe del Valle.

In the home altar room, receiving blessings from uncle and aunt

Then the quinceañera would take to the dance floor to perform a selection to music of her choosing, creating the choreography, accompanied by a group of young men called chambelanes, dance escorts symbolically representing potential suitors.

Breakfast bread, waiting to be eaten
Vaquero-themed event, sombrero in place with ceremony

Today’s quinceanera celebration is a grand affair, with hundreds of well-wishers participating. It’s almost like a wedding, complete with elaborate flower bouquets and gauze garlands adorning the church that are then moved to the home where the after-party will take place.

Festive party gathering under the tent at home
Court attendant in Vaquero costume, a popular quince años theme

The quinceaños, as it is currently observed, is recent history here, practiced in grand style for only the past twenty or thirty years, according to a local friend. In recent years, it has become grander and costlier, costing as much as $25,000 USD.

Breakfast: Chicken, mole castillo, fresh tortillas and atole
Meanwhile, out back the cooks are at work

It is not unheard of to start out with a breakfast of fresh-killed and cooked chicken topped with homemade mole castillo and comal cooked tortillas. Out behind the house, the women cook over wood-fired, make-shift stoves and outdoor kitchens.

First, Oaxaca hot chocolate and bread; Lupita’s Madrina, far left
Perhaps now she’s old enough to drink

In the meantime, the 15-year-old honoree is getting ready. She has already been to the beauty salon the day before for the hair and make-up make-over. She puts on her special dress, traditional gold earrings and necklace with a religious symbol. She is ready for the day.

We begin the day with a mezcal toast; after all, it’s 8:30 a.m.

After the church mass, celebrants return to home for the afternoon into evening festivities. The area is cleared to set-up tables and chairs for the multitude. There are two bands (each costing about 10,000 pesos, I’m told), a disc jockey, decorated cakes, a late afternoon lunch we call comida, plenty of mezcal toasts with beer chasers.

The afternoon meal is a special barbecue pork. The two pigs, raised from piglets in the back stable, were slaughtered the day before by a special maestro. Every part is used for the meat and broth.

We know where our food comes from here

Of course, in a Usos y Costumbres village like Teotitlan del Valle, this expense is not totally out-of-pocket. Many costs are covered by a host of affiliated supporters, like the Madrina and Padrino, usually a couple of high social and religious stature who provide financial, cultural and religious underpinnings. They will instruct the quinceañera in the values and traditions of the community.

After the mass, a band serenades the crowd

Funding also comes in the form of the guelaguetza system where family and friends repay goods and services that have been given to them over the years, this includes labor, too. This a complex collaboration and accounting system keeps families connected, indebted to each other, and promotes strong community values.

All that’s important: Padrinos, family, friends, and Quinceañera symbols
The priestly blessing

Here, one can always count on a relative or friend to make blessings and offerings. They come with an armful of flowers, roses and lilies, a case of beer, a bottle of mezcal, a beautifully wrapped gift that might be a sweater, a dress, an apron or blouse, a pair of earrings, a purse. They come to the altar room where they are greeted formally by the host family and the quinceañera, giving and receiving thanks.

Guelaguetza, after all, really means giving and receiving, sharing, thanks and blessings, honor and tradition.

One of the bands arriving with fanfare

In the past, this was a fiesta to recognize that a young woman was ready to become a wife and mother, to become attached to another, to take on the role of helpmate in the household of her husband. These are vestiges. Today, it is party-time.

Family members preparing and serving the comida

I asked two young women, now in their thirties, if they had quinceañeras. Yes, they answered. One said her parents gave her the choice of a party or a trip. She chose the party. She still loves to party! The other remembers her dance to the song of her favorite recording artist of the time.

The quince is dream time. The time to imagine, giving up the dolls and baby toys and think about how life will unfold. It is a time to celebrate family, culture, youth, energy. I recall how the DJ master of ceremonies called Lupita la muñeca, la princesa, la reina, la mariposa — the doll, the princess, the queen, the butterfly — as she danced and twirled, transformed. For one day she was all of that and hopefully, this will build upon her self-confidence to become her dreams.

Perhaps one day, Santiago will become a chambalane!

Days after, after the tarp came down, the chairs and tables taken away, the millions of dishes washed, the house almost back to normal, I made a visit to Lupita, her mother and grandmother. Do you want to see my gifts? she asked, still glowing.

After the quince años, we have flowers and happiness

Yes, I said, as I took a seat in the altar room next to the family. Everyone was filled with pride. I saw how meaningful this event was for Lupita and her family. The rite of passage was complete.

My own mother was an aspiring feminist who never manifested her own profession but who supported her daughters in our quest for individuation and identity. Education was critical to our family to advance and reach beyond the struggle of immigrant grandparents. Our family spent money cautiously. Grand celebrations and rituals were not part of that experience.

Lupita is studying voice and gave us a song

It is important for any of us here in Mexico to understand, accept and appreciate lifestyle and traditions that are different than our own. Teotitlan del Valle is a village of connection and community, where the constant flow of fiesta is a way of life. I see it as a way of celebrating life, and it is a privilege for me to be living here.

The Altar Room, religious and social center of the home

10 responses to “Lupita’s Quinceanera in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Culture and Tradition

  1. This is a wonderful post. Knowing many of the people pictured makes it even more special and gives me the feeling of sharing this happy occasion with you and them. Lupita is truly a special young woman!

  2. Thank you SO much for sharing this lovely event…it brings back many memories of Oaxaca …!

  3. I loved seeing this.

  4. Thankyou thankyou thankyou for posting this and for taking such beautiful photos of Lupita and her celebration. I wish I could have been there. She has captured my heart. I wish the best for her and look forward to seeing her again.

  5. I loved this post!! As I read the text and looked at your wonderful photos that told the story, I kept hoping I would see Lupita’s dance. And then, near the end, there it was! Thank you for sharing this wonderful family and community day. I hope for a grand future for Lupita!

    • Thank you, Jill. It’s really hard to capture photos and videos with the iPhone at night. The one flaw that I have in this technology! It was a glorious event and we all hope for a grand future for Lupita. We are products of our environment, our circumstances and also our own will to manifest something for ourselves — whatever that may be. Abrazos.

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