Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Debutante Balls

One of my really good friends recently gave birth to a baby girl. The baby is an interesting mix of Mexican and Vietnamese - Asian, but looks completely Asian.

So, I asked her in a recent visit. Are you going to give you're daughter a Quinceanera? 
Yes, she said.
No, her husband said. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Mexican tradition, a Quinceanera is a sort of debutante ball, a coming of age party for Mexican girls who turn 15 and marks the transition from girlhood to womanhood. I don't know all the particulars of it -I'm sure you can google it or someone who is more familiar with the tradition can perhaps expand on it - but basically, it's a big shindig where the celebrant wears a big puffy princess dress and maybe a princess crown, and there's dancing, and more dancing and good times.

But debutant balls are not exclusive to the Mexican culture. Google it and you'll find that a lot of places around the world have some form of coming of age celebration for daughters that vary by region and have evolved throughout the centuries.

Even Filipinos celebrate their daughter's coming of age which they call a Debut (pronounced De-Boo). My first exposure to the idea of a Filipino Debut was through the movie The Debut which I watched when I was maybe a junior in high school. I don't remember what it was about so I couldn't give you any good reviews, but I remember watching it and wondering why I had never known about this Filipino tradition.  I mean, what kind of Filipino was I who didn't even know any of the traditions?

But by the end of my high school years,  I attended a few debutantes balls, participated in a few cotillions, and became very well versed on all things debutante balls. To be honest, at the time, I was jealous of those girls whose parents gave them these coming of age celebrations. They were big parties where the day was about the birthday girl, families would fly from all over (even the motherland) to celebrate, the birthday girl got dolled and for that one day felt like a princess. Who wouldn't want that?

However, I never had one. For a number of reasons:

 1. My parents didn't have the money to have one
 2. It wasn't a tradition that my family really did. No one on either side of my family had ever had one, so I had never even heard of it growing up.

Now that I'm grown, in retrospect, I'm kind of glad I didn't. Perhaps it's my wiser, more learned years that has developed this perspective that debutante balls, debuts, coming of age parties, whatever you want to call it - are no longer relevant. Well, take that back, it's a fact that they are no longer relevant. We no longer live in the same society in which these sort of traditions make sense. The roles of women have changed, there is no longer this 'competition' to marry one's daughter off to the most eligible bachelor available, and women are no longer are expected or subjected to marry and live their lives solely for the purpose of living within a domestic sphere. You can correct me if I'm wrong on the what debutante balls are all about, but all the central reasons why a debutante ball may have been relevant in the 19th century are no longer so in 21st century.

For those who would argue the importance of upholding the tradition, something that while not relevant is still part of the culture, I say that I would rather invest what money I would spend on a debutante ball, on a college fund.

If only my 18 year old self could hear me now - the one who wished she had a Debut and was envious of all those who had one. I don't think she would believe me.