Sweet Fifteen

My friend Ramiro, who is building a house on a hill in the rural community of Rodeo, outside of Guanajuato, Mexico, invited me to join him and some members of his family this past weekend at a special, grand fiesta held there. And what a party it was! I’m still reeling.

The event was a quinceañera, the celebration of the fifteenth birthday of a girl in the community, who was made a princess for the day.

Ramiro with the birthday girl
Ramiro with the birthday girl

Quinceañeras, in Mexico and throughout the Americas, are nothing new. They date back to the Aztecs, as I later learned from Wikipedia:

Quinceañeras originated from Aztec culture around 500 B.C. At age fifteen boys became warriors and girls were viewed as mothers of future warriors, marking the age in which a girl became a woman. …The festivities combine Spanish-Catholic traditions with the Aztec and Indigenous heritage. In ancient Mexico, or Mexica, the Aztecs had many ceremonies to mark passages through the stages of life; this specific passage marks a young woman becoming an adult…”

Other cultures, of course, have similar coming-of-age celebrations. The U.S.’s “Sweet Sixteen” party and the Jewish Bat Mitzvah come to mind. But I have never experienced anything – even in my ten years as a caterer in Manhattan – quite like this quinceañera last Saturday.

First of all, it appeared to me to be a shared community effort, not one shouldered by the girl’s parents alone. Everyone, I was told, contributed or participated in some way to make this an especially memorable day in this young woman’s life. Everyone, it seemed to me, had invested in this girl’s happiness and future.

The entire fiesta was, in my view, an awe-inspiring feat of planning and preparation, organization and cooperation. It was balletic in its choreography, seamless and seemingly well rehearsed in its production. How did they manage to pull this off? I kept asking myself, knowing how difficult it is to plan and execute a successful party, especially on a shoestring.

Under one of the tents at the fiesta
Under one of the tents at the fiesta

When I asked others at my table how many people they thought were there in all, the only answer I could get was “muchas personas” (many). My guess was close to three hundred – from babes in arms to old folks with canes, and every age in between. The food was delicious (pulled pork, red rice, mole, and fresh, warm tortillas), the music (two live bands) unendingly entertaining into the wee hours, and the dancing, oh, the dancing! I don’t think I’ve ever danced so much or so joyfully.

My favorite dance music of the night was cumbia, which, I subsequently learned from online research, “began as a courtship dance practiced among the African population on the Caribbean coasts of Colombia and Panama” and “later mixed with Amerindian and European instruments, steps, and musical characteristics and spread throughout Latin America and abroad.” While cumbia was playing, I literally couldn’t sit down.

When I wasn’t dancing, I watched: couples of all ages, in tune and in step with each other, happy to be together, happy to be alive. And as I watched, I thought: If only all communities everywhere could unite like this on a regular basis and dance their cares away! Perhaps the world wouldn’t be so anxious and crazy as it seems now.

Ramiro’s house on the hill is close to completion. I’ve given him a small, peach-colored bougainvillea, which he’s planted beside the house; and I’ve asked him to bury my ashes in that spot (when the time comes), which he’s agreed to do. I don’t belong to his community now, I know, but I intend to then. And I intend to enjoy the view:


View of the countryside from Ramiro's rancho in Rodeo
View of the countryside from Ramiro’s rancho in Rodeo

12 thoughts on “Sweet Fifteen”

  1. Oh Bonnie…how lovely! What a joyful description of a community-supported celebration. If only we all felt so personally invested in the future of our young people. As for the peach-colored bougainvillea…I hope the pretty thing has pretty-thing-great-grandchildren before you “enjoy the view” from there!

  2. Bonnie, this is so beautiful! What a healthy, vibrant culture. I loved this insight: “Everyone, it seemed to me, had invested in this girl’s happiness and future.” Reminded me of Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village.” Lovely!

  3. what a happy post! I’m so delighted to envision you moving to the latin rhythms that we love so well! sounds like the perfect way to celebrate!

  4. Lovely piece, Bonnie – I so look forward to these.
    Glad to see you’ve carved out quite a full and joyous life in Mexico!

  5. What a precious way of describing this unforgettable fiesta. I can imagine you and your cute friend Romero there. I hope he,s read this post.

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