Tag Archives: Quince anos

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

Finding Federico & Eric Chavez: Calle Francisco I. Madero #55

Preface: The village just had an election and there is a new president and village council. They have renumbered every home on every street. Many homes will now have their “old numbers” and their “new numbers” enameled in yellow on dark green. I’m certain this will be confusing to many travelers who want to search out the very best weavers who are not to be found in the village market. The Chavez family have just put up the new numbers — #55. Many families are using both the old and new numbers. Sometimes, numbers alone are not enough. For example, to find the Chavez family, as you enter into town on Avenida Benito Juarez, turn left at Francisco I Madero (Mexican revolutionary hero). The street is before you cross the bridge going toward the central square. There will be a big yellow sign at the corner that says” Familia Chavez Santiago”. Go down one long block and cross Independencia. You’ll then come to a pretty scrabbly cobble stone road. Don’t let that stop you. Keep going until you get to a long alley way. There will be a small sign up above that says F.Chavez with #55 below it. Turn right and go down the alley until you get to the gate and the family home.  ****** It’s nearly 1:30 p.m. I’m sitting at the dining table in the courtyard of the Federico Chavez Sosa family in Teotitlan. The table is wood covered with a pretty plaid and floral oilcloth. It seats up to 10 people and serves as the center of family business, meals, relaxation and talking time. I am surrounded by looms, tapetes (rugs or blankets — TAH-pet-tays), hanks of yarn both dyed and natural shades in a g-zillion variations of red, green, blue, yellow, tan, brown, orange, pink. Middle child, daughter Janet age 22, a university student studying linguistics, is sitting across from me, fiddling with a metal brush that she is using to clean a rug that has just been woven. She picks out the tiny bits of plant fiber from the wool with a tweezers, then brushes the rug with the metal implement which reveals more plant material, continues plucking until the rug is clean. This can take an hour or several hours, depending upon the size of the rug. Last week, Federico completed a commission for a couple who live in Arizona. The rug was 10 x 14 and this hand method of cleaning it took several hours by the entire family — Federico, wife Dolores, Eric, Janet and 14-year old Omar. Eric is behind me at his loom, measuring what will be the warp threads, preparing the warp by hand winding it between two iron posts set into the courtyard bricks, using incredibly strong cotton to begin a another project, a set of pillows that will be completed for me to take home to North Carolina and offer for sale. Eric completed university in Oaxaca last year, speaks fluent English and is deciding what he will do next. He loves to weave, is an excellent weaver, too, like his parents and fore bearers, but is considering going on for advanced graduate education in the United States. In a village where ancient traditions and family ties are strong, where young women become eligible for marriage after the Quinceanos celebration of puberty, where pregnancy and marriage at age 17 or 18 is common, where it is not unusual for families to have six to eight children or more, where youthful dreams of economic prosperity become subsumed to the basic needs of everyday life, this family has created a different model. Omar will complete middle school in the village in July and then go on to post-secondary high school, which is private education, in Oaxaca city starting in August 2008, getting up early in the morning, riding the bus daily back and forth from the village to the city, like his brother and sister before him. The Christmas tree is still up; the manger scene is decorated with plastic farm animals, the wise men, baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary nestled in moss and whole root aloe plants in bloom bought at the market brought down from the mountain village of Benito Juarez by mountain top farmers who cultivate roses and gladiolas and cana lilies. A bright blue 3-burner propane gas cooktop is ready for preparing the next batch of natural dyes. The courtyard is the living room. From it, two sets of concrete stairs lead to the upper floors, dominated by Federico’s large looms (six are set up and two are unbuilt), flanked by bedrooms. The altar room is also the area for displaying rugs. Janet recollects that this is the house where she was born and raised, and that in the early years the courtyard flourished with pomegranate, avocado and mango trees where the paved courtyard is now. As the family grew and as the grandfather’s land in this narrow and long plot of land was divided among three brothers, rooms were added as rugs were sold and money became available, a second story was built, the courtyard became smaller, the trees gave way to concrete, and building became a vertical endeavor. This is a cash economy and people build or add on until the money for the project runs out or the project is completed. Throughout the village we see various stages of construction, and prosperity is measured by the same standards that we have in the U.S. — size of house and hillside vs. flat land location. Up until recently no one built beyond the boundaries of the river, but now, families with multiple offspring who are able to sell rugs to distributors or representatives in the U.S. use their profits to build. This is how people invest here. Since the Chavez family has been coming to the U.S. to give lectures and presentations at universities, museums and galleries over the last two years, their situation has improved, and they are now building an entirely new casa on the outskirts of the village where there will be the space and freedom to have gardens, fresh air and great views.