Ancient traditions mark the transition when a girl turns 15.
By SARAH POULTON
ITH A MILLION-DOLLAR SMILE and a tear in her eye, Noemi Aguirre, led by her chamblean de honor, Adrian Labra, walked onto the dance floor, followed by eight of her closest friends and their escorts.
Noemi was serenaded as the court, made up of eight damas and eight chambleans, who are similar to bridesmaids and their escorts, danced in a circle around her and Adrian, while the young couple danced.
The members of the circle kept a close watch over Noemi as they switched partners, smiling at her and congratulating her with facial expressions.
Noemi's parents, Pedro and Maria, watched as their daughter crossed the path from childhood to womanhood. They appeared to be so excited and proud for her, but sad at the same time, for their little Noemi was no longer a little girl.
Last Sunday, in Salem, Ohio, Noemi celebrated her quincea & ntilde;era, a milestone in the life of any young Latino woman. Pastor Thomas Elsweirth, Noemi's priest, described a quincea & ntilde;era as dedication of a young woman who is turning 15 years old.
One of her damas, Olivia Mitchell, 14, of Salem, said that she had been waiting patiently for this day to come since May, when Noemi asked her to be a part of the ceremony.
"It's the most important day in her life besides her wedding," Olivia said. "She's so excited and she looks beautiful in her dress. I just want this to be a perfect day for her."
The quincea & ntilde;era began with a traditional Spanish mass at St. Paul Roman Catholic Church. Noemi walked down the aisle on a white carpet at 6 p.m. in a beautiful peach ball gown, escorted by her parents and Adrian.
They slowly walked to the "Quincea & ntilde;era Waltz." As she approached the altar, she was seated in the aisle between her parents. Directly in front of her was a large, heart-shaped floral display, made of green, coral, peach and yellow roses with the number 15 in the center. To her right was a live band playing the music for the ceremony.
Traditionally, the young woman wears a white gown without a train, which, according to Milly Bonilla, whose daughter Cassandra, had her quincea & ntilde;era last February, can be hard to find. Noemi decided against a white gown for her own reasons.
"I liked the color and it was fitting for this time of year," Noemi said. "I'm also going to wear white for my wedding, and I didn't want to wear the same color twice."
The old ways
The mass was given entirely in Spanish, which was a perfect representation of Noemi's Mexican roots. She was born in La Piedad, Mexico, and moved to the United States when she was seven. Her grandparents, who still live there, made a special trip for the event.
Deacon Enrique Santiago of St. Rose of Lima in Coitsville partakes in several quincea & ntilde;eras a year. Regardless of which country a young Latino woman is from, the meaning behind a quincea & ntilde;era is the same, and it is a beautiful ceremony, he said.
"We celebrate life, the life that God has given this young woman," Santiago said. "We try to instill in her certain values, such as to give herself to her husband as Christ gave himself to the church."
Two important meanings behind the quinceanera are that the young woman is supposed to represent the bride of Christ, and she is also to represent a bride waiting for her future groom, Bonilla said.
During the mass, family members and friends presented Noemi with traditional quincea & ntilde;era gifts, such as a heart-shaped pillow, flowers and a photo album. Each gift is a symbol, representing a part of the young woman's life.
Noemi, almost finished with her ceremony, then walked over to a statue of the Virgin Mary, and placed the flowers at Mary's feet to the song, "Ave Maria." When she walked back over to her parents, they each took a turn waving a gold wand to the sign of the cross, and burst out into a mixture of tears and laughter.
That made it official; Noemi was now a young woman. She was in shock after the ceremony, and it was hard for her to describe her feelings.
"I'm excited and nervous and happy," Noemi said. "It's just different. I feel different."
Traditions and symbolism
The customary dance, performed by the court at the beginning of the reception, was choreographed by Noemi. In addition to "Stema de Nadia," the "Quincea & ntilde;era Waltz" was also incorporated into the routine.
Following the waltz, Noemi and her father danced to "La Ultima Mu & ntilde;eca," and she was then seated at her honorary throne. During this time, her father replaced her juvenile flat shoes with more sophisticated heeled ones, and they danced again.
Her guests were then seated and ate a traditional meal that her parents prepared including rice, beans and pulled pork. From there, Noemi, along with her friends and family, danced the night away.
While Noemi's was a traditional celebration, Cassandra's was slightly Americanized. The 16-year-old Boardman resident is not Catholic, so she had a church service instead of a mass.
They also translated the traditional Spanish service into English. But most important for the Bonilla family was the vow made between God and Cassandra.
"Remaining pure is very important to us," Bonilla said. "The ring represents an unending circle of life and also chastity, to be replaced only with a wedding ring. Her white gown represents purity."
Regardless of denomination or geographic location, the quincea & ntilde;era, for most young Latino women, is the first day of a new chapter in their lives.