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Quinceanera arrives in rural Georgia
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opinion columns
by Richard Harris

From the Sept. 15, 2021
issue of The Journal

  In American Saturday Night, Brad Paisley sings about how bits of culture from across the globe get incorporated into the fabric of the USA.
   You know everywhere there's something they're known for; although it usually washes up on our shores.
   It's been happening since the country was founded (even before), as people from all over the world cross oceans and land masses looking for a better life and to live the "American Dream."
   It's still happening. In recent years, the quinceanera has arrived in our region of rural Georgia.
   As a country boy from South Georgia, I've struggled to describe the event to others who aren't familiar with it. I came up with the following: Take a traditional American Sweet 16 birthday party, a Southern debutante ball, and a wedding; mix them all up together and pour a little salsa on top.
   I grew up in Buena Vista and had never heard of a quinceanera until recent years. If you were to "Google" the term, you'd get a very lengthy explanation. However, in a nutshell, it's a traditional Hispanic ceremony held for a girl when she turns 15 to mark her transition from childhood to being a young woman.
   When it originated in Mexico, it was basically an event for families to present their "grown women" to potential suitors. Now – at least from what I've seen locally – it's not really about presenting a woman as being "on the market." Rather, it is both a recognition of the teenager as a young lady, as well as a way for her family and community to reinforce their beliefs and to offer advice and encouragement.
   For example, in each of the ceremonies I've attended, a pastor presents the girl with a Bible, stresses the importance of following its teachings, and prays for her. (I don't speak Spanish, but it is obvious that's what is happening.)
   It's also a HUGE event and a big celebration, with fancy dresses, gifts (that carry symbolism), lots of food including traditional cakes, specially chosen young men accompanying the honoree (even getting together ahead of time to practice dances they perform at the event), and more.
   Parts of the quinceanera are very formal and many of the attendees also wear their "Sunday best", although there is usually a wide range of attire. To be on the safe side, if you get an invitation, wear a coat and tie (or a nice dress).
   Oh, and be prepared to stay a while. If you're like me, you won't understand many of the words spoken or the lyrics sung, but you'll be able to get the gist of things by observing.
   Just sit back, relax, and enjoy learning a little about your friend or neighbor's culture.
   While the ceremony has evolved from its original focus, what remains is something we could all learn from.
   No, I'm not suggesting that when Betty Lou Thelma Liz turns 15 that you rent a gathering place, decorate it, and spend a lot of money on a formal affair. However, how many 15-year-olds do you know who could benefit from their family, friends, church members, neighbors, etc., all acknowledging that they are at an important time in their lives – and reminding them of their worth, as well as the importance of the Bible, family, and responsibility?
I'm guessing your answer is "mucho".