XV Años Celebration

By Martha Brown. Edited by Susan Roach.


On June 16 of 2007 Brenda and Leticia Martinez's celebrated their 15th birthday in quinceañera that their mother Isabel Martinez organized with a mass in Farmerville and a party in Ruston, Louisiana. Ms. Martinez, a native of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, moved to North Louisiana a few years before. She planned this celebration for her daughters with the help of the Mexican Catholic community in Bernice. Several people volunteered their time, talent, and financial means to make this event possible. This celebration is one of many traditions kept by the Mexican community in Bernice in North Louisiana where the majority of its members are from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. This event varies depending on the economical means and social status of the family. Mrs. Isabel Martinez was very proud to be able to host a celebration for her twin daughters according to her own traditions from experiences in several rural towns in Mexico.

Reception table decorations and favors made by family and friends include bottles of apple cider decorated with glitter paint and ribbons reflecting the blue and white color scheme. Photo: Susan Roach.

The Quince Años celebration is an event most anticipated for girls approaching adolescence. The dance is a dream come true to become a princess who dances with her father, godfathers, and friends to acknowledge that she is no longer a child.

As in many other celebrations, in the preparation of the Quince Años many traditions are passed from mothers to daughters. Different souvenirs such as glittered apple cider bottles and decorated baskets for bread are handmade before the event to be used to decorate the tables in the reception. During this time, women socialize and provide different anecdotes of their own experiences. Commercial decorations are also purchased for the event and used as favors.

At the reception following the mass, commercial table decorations that will be used as favors include a variety of blue and white figurines and other feminine symbols. Photo: Susan Roach.

Maria Lopez, an important leader in the Bernice community, made the decorations for the church that consisted of white paper flowers chains connected with blue straws that were hung on the ceiling and walls. Blue and white plastic flower chains were placed along the pews in the central aisle, and other handmade decorations adorned the altar. Mrs. Lopez was assisted by three other women from the community in decorating the church for this occasion. Later at the mass, Lopez sang in the choir and made a speech to the girls and was joined by friends to sing a special birthday song to them. At the party, she assisted with serving the food that she helped prepare.

The reception provided a full dinner of red rice, refried beans, beef, green salsa, and corn tortillas. Photo: Susan Roach.

The Martinez twins, Brenda and Leticia, wore beautiful white strapless dresses, differing from each other by small blue decorations placed on Brenda's dress. A special mass as a thanksgiving for Brenda and Leticia's 15th birthday took place at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Farmerville, and was officiated over by Father Blaine. In Spanish, he addressed the young ladies inviting them to reflect and rejoice on this important time of their lives. Brenda and Leticia were accompanied by their grandmother, mother, sister, "chambelanes," godparents, and little girls as their court maids. The chambelanes were two young men who escorted Brenda and Leticia as they left the church, and at the party, they were their dance partners.

At the special Quinceanera mass, the priest invites Brenda and Leticia to reflect and rejoice on this important time, and their godparents present them with gifts of jewelry. Photo: Martha Brown.

The reception/party was held at the Civic Center in Ruston, Louisiana. It was decorated in a white and blue color scheme with a magnificent cake that adorned the central table. The dinner consisted of red rice, refried beans, beef, green salsa, and corn tortillas. Some women and men, including Mr. Alfredo Lopez, helped in the preparation of the food to be able to feed a homemade meal to approximately 250 guests. For example, one woman cooked 10 pounds of red rice for this dinner.

The Mexican community in Union Parish is made up of mostly working-class people who serve poultry businesses in the area. To be able to afford this type of festivity, the family counts on the support of many godparents (padrinos) who provided different gifts and services. For example, Brenda and Leticia had godparents for the cake, the music, the jewelry, the dresses, and "the last dolls" presented at the party.

The twins cut the special blue and white decorated cake provided by godparents. Photo: Susan Roach.

El Grupo, a band from the El Dorado area, entertained during the evening. Brenda and Leticia were greeted by family and friends. The announcer introduced the Quinceañeras to the audience. He wished that the dance they had rehearsed for this event would turn out to be as they had expected. He also mentioned that this celebration was to remind Brenda and Leticia of the transition that was taking place from girls to young ladies. "Let's give a hand," he requested of the guests to celebrate the dance and the occasion. "Las Mañanitas," a traditional birthday song, was dedicated to the Quinceañeras.

Ms. Martinez indicated that in the celebration the presentation of the last doll to their children was very important because a doll is given to each of her daughters as a symbol of the last toy to remind them of their childhood years already gone. A special song was played while the godparents presented to each one of the young ladies a beautiful doll that was dressed with similar dresses as the ones they were wearing. The song mentioned the passing of the years and the quinceañeras' transition to adulthood. The audience followed both couples as Brenda and Leticia danced with their godparents and their dolls. For the toast, Ms. Martinez had decorated bottles of apple cider with blue glitter and a small ribbon. These sidra bottles were opened by the guests to wish good luck and good health to the quinceañeras. The twins each received a "big gift" from their god parents and parents containing many smaller gifts inside.

Men at the reception place money in the twins' baskets to take a turn at dancing with the honorees. Photo: Susan Roach.

As the music continued, two small baskets were placed on the dance floor where Brenda and Leticia danced with their male friends and family members. As each one of the men took turns to dance with them, each placed money in the twins' respective baskets. After this event, all the guests began to dance on the stage, and the party lasted until late hours of the night.

It is admirable that the Mexican-Catholic community overcomes so many obstacles and collaborates to realize this important event as a way to preserve their tradition in a place so far away from home. As a result, they are teaching their children the importance of honoring their heritage!

Martha Perez Brown, a native of Mexico, has been in the U.S. for over 30 years and was working in the Union Parish school system as a liaison with Hispanic students and their families when folklorist Susan Roach asked her to participate in documenting the Mexican community of North Central Louisiana for the New Populations Project. (See the related essay, Ritual Traditions of Maria Lopez: From Mexico to Louisiana by Susan Roach.)