Traditions

A Qunceañera Fiesta
In a Small Town in Veracruz

Photographs and Text By John Todd, Jr.

Fish Stew on the Weekends
My Friend Luis
During a weekend search for one of Santa Anna´s lost haciendas, Manga de Clavo, I met Luis Vazquez Lagunes and his family in the nearby village of Vargas.

Luis is a lawyer and like many people who live in the little towns and ranchos nearby, he commutes an hour to work at his law firm each day in Veracruz.

Over the next few months, Luis invited me back to his house for visits, once to a wedding party, and several times for Sunday dinner on the patio at his families house.

I got to know his family and some of the neighbors, and they made me feel like part of the family.
Invitation to a Wedding
The Quinceañera Tradition
Mexico is a very old country with strong traditions which are very strong in the small towns and villages.

In the area around Veracruz these traditions go back over 400 years and many customs celebrated in some parts of the United States actually got their start here several hundred years ago.

Later these traditions moved along with the migrations of the people to other parts of Mexico and the United States.

Veracruz is where many of these traditions and customs began and are still an important part of daily life throughout the year.

Quince Años is a Wonderful Time for a Young Girl
The name in Spanish "Quince Años" means 15 Years. Perhaps the formalities in Mexico were originated by the French during their occupation in the 19th century when they introduced debutante parties. some say that perhaps the custom goes back further to the days before the Spanish came to Mexico.

The Quinceañera is a celebration every girl in Veracruz looks forward to with great anticipation. It is an official recognition that she is no longer a child, and is now a woman. It means she can officially now go out on dates. I don´t know of any formal celebrations like this when boys become men. I guess for men, it just happens.

Looking for a Table
An Event on a Basketball Court
Luis contacted me a couple of days before, and we agreed to meet at his families house around 2 PM.

When I arrived everyone was ready. There were about 10 of us.

Off in the distance a couple of blocks away, we could hear the music from the party begin.

We walked the two short blocks as a group to the school. The event was to take place outdoors on the basketball court.
A Little Tight
When we arrived the place was already full and the música tropical from 4 ft. high speakers were going full blast.

Finding a Table
When we got there, the place was crowded. We wandered among the people shaking hands with friends and neighbors and saying hello.

Finally, we found a couple of free tables and chairs and put them together so we could all sit together.
Menudo, and Tamales
The Food Arrives
I already knew most of the people, Luis, his brother, his father and mother, and other relatives and friends.

The space was a little tight when the refrescos and food arrived but nobody seemed to mind.

Mondongo
First they served menudo in little plastic bowls.

It is like a spicy beef soup and is really good when you add diced onions, oregano, and a few drops of fresh lime.

In Northern Mexico it is called menudo and in the area around Veracruz the same thing is called mondongo.

Menudo, or Mondongo
On the side there were little plastic bowls with limes, oregano, and ground red chile pepper.

It is one of the last Mexican dishes I had to learn to like. I have to confess that at first it wasn´t easy. The way to do it is to add lots of lime juice.

Tamales
When we were half way through the menudo they began passing out little plates with tamales wrapped in aluminum foil.

Once the aluminum foil is opened, a carefully wrapped tamal in a banana leaf appears.

Although it´s a little greasy, with the tips of your fingers, you untie the string around the banana leaf to reveal a delicious pork tamal.
The Balloon Man
Refrescos and Paper Napkins
There are plenty of paper napkins to go around.

By now the refrescos tasted good.

After lunch, the balloon man came over and showed his wares to one of the families.

I talked to Luis´s father who was sitting next to me.

We were waiting for the formal Quinceañera ceremony to begin.
Luis´s Dad
Waiting for the Formalities to Begin
Everybody had finished eating, even the small children.

The balloon salesman was off to one side of the speakers which played the loud cumbia music.

We knew the formalities to about to begin.

I had attended a Quinceañera celebration in Houston organized by people who had never been to Mexico.

It was a very solemn, formal affair with lots of poetry, and formal waltzes with the Quinceañera as the centerpiece of attention.

I was expecting more of the same and figured it would be a little boring.
Waiting to Begin
Similar Traditions
Customs in the smaller towns in Mexico are a lot more formal and serious than in the cities.

When the announcer began the ceremony, and the modern music began.

I was surprised at how the tradition had changed into an unexpected performance similar to a program on MTV.

Aside from the traditional format, it was far removed from its origins during the times of the French Occupation of Mexico in the 19th century.

These kids must have been practicing the dance routines for several months.

The Quinceañera
The Formalities Start
The formalities started with a bang!

The music began with a break dance song.

I realized this was like not the formal Quinceañera dance I had attended in Houston.

It appeared more like performers from an MTV production. They were really good!

These small town kids had choreographed it well and must have spent months practicing the steps.

One moment the Chambelanes were down on the floor on one elbow, then, another the were doing a kick number.

And I began to watch a little closer. This was not an ordinary traditional performance in a small farming town.

I realized I was probably witnessing the evolution of a ritual started centuries ago.
The Presentation with the Chambelanes
The Chambelanes
Chambelanes are the formal escorts for the Quinceañera.

They are like assistants or maybe like older brothers.

The word sounds like "Chamberlain", and that´s probably where the word came from.

In the large Quinceañera celebrations there are many more Chambelanes.

Some of the very formal celebrations look like something from the finest court in France.
A Dance with her Father
A Dance with her Father
At the conclusion of the preliminary dances with the chambelanes, the master of ceremonies began the formal introductions.

He gave presentations of the parents and padrinos who are good friends of the family and also sponsors of the event.

The parents and the sponsors take their places at the head table and watch as the dance continues.

There is a point in the formalities when she dances with her father.

And it is a very moving moment to see father and daughter dancing a slow formal waltz like in the old days when the French were here.

Spectacular Choreography
Afterwards the dance routine resumed with more spectacular choreography.
High in the Air
A Swoon
The Circle
Other Formalities
Another point in the formalities, a group the younger adolescent girls formed in a protective circle around the Quinceañera.

Then other boys and friends of the Quinceañera were allowed to dance with her.

It was similar to the last dance of a bride at the wedding I attended earlier in the year.
A Toast to the Quinceañera
A Toast to the Quinceañera
When the formal dances are finished, the Quinceañera and her Chambelanes join the parents and the padrinos at the head table.

The master of ceremonies talks about the changes from a child to a woman. She takes her first symbolic drink of champagne.

The rest of us attending the celebration join in the toast, in recognition and welcome to her new status. She is no longer a child.

It is a solemn moment while each of us ponder the words of the announcer.
Luis´s Brother and Girlfriend
Invitation to the Next Quinceañera
With the formalities over, couples began to join the others on the dance floor.

I turned and talked to Luis´s brother and his girlfriend for awhile.

Luis´s father asked me if I had liked the celebration, and I told him that I did.

"My wife and I will be sponsors at another Quinceañera celebration, and you are invited to come," he said

That was nice.

"Just let me know when it is," I replied. "I´ll be there."
Luis
Afterthoughts
As we were walking out into the street, I recognized some people from the wedding several months before, and we stopped to shake hands and talked for awhile.

When we were walking down the dusty road back to the house, I was thinking about all the good food, music, and my next trip.

I asked Luis, "I wonder how I can ever repay these people?"

He said, "Relax, here in Veracruz, we don´t think about such things. It always works out in the end. It was a good party, wasn´t it."

As I drove back to Veracruz, I thought how I was looking forward to the next time I see Luis´s family again.

I was fortunate to have found this little village in Mexico near Veracruz, where daily life is not yet complicated and people have fun. It was a good fiesta!

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