SULLIVAN — Looking back at teenage years can evoke chuckles and questions about fashion choices and prom dates. Around the world, it also is considered a hugely important time for young people as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. This “coming of age” is marked differently from the bar and bat mitzvahs for boys and girls at ages 13 and 12 to sweet 16 parties in American pop culture.
In Hispanic culture, a young girl’s passage to womanhood and her faith is celebrated at age 15 in the quinceañera (pronounced keen-say-en-yera), said to date back to the ancient Aztec Indians in Mexico). In the 1500s, age 15 was considered the midway point in an Aztec girl’s lifespan. Under Spanish rule, the rite of passage morphed into a ball and incorporated traditional Catholic beliefs.
Last December, Ana Rosa Valencia Jungo and her three siblings traveled to western Mexico to celebrate her own quinceañera in her parents Elio Valencia and Rosalba Jungo’s home state of Michoacan. Her sisters Yesenia, 21, Adriana, 20, and Angel, 14, went too.
A sophomore at Sumner Memorial High School,
Elio originally hails from Michoacan’s bustling capital city of Morelia while Rosalba comes from the small town of Santa Ana Maya. The Valencias decided to hold the celebration in the latter, where you can walk everywhere, the pace is slower and “everyone knows everyone.”
In the 1990s, Elio and Rosalba moved from Michoacan to California, living there for four years before moving to Maine. Initially, he worked at the former Stinson Seafood — Maine’s then last sardine-packing plant — in the Gouldsboro village of Prospect Harbor before moving on Maine Shellfish Co. in Ellsworth. The Sullivan couple were married in 2001.
From Downeast Maine, Ana Rosa’s parents spent much of last year planning their youngest daughter’s quinceañera in Santa Ana Maya. Every few years, the Valencias have returned to Mexico for Christmas, New Year’s and other relatives’ quinceañeras. So even though she was born in Ellsworth, Ana Rosa was familiar with the celebration and its elaborate rituals. The festivities are on the scale of a wedding and for many Mexican families, it is just as important as one.
“It’s coming out and becoming a woman,” Ana Rosa summed up, adding, “you aren’t a kid anymore, you should be making good decisions in your life.”
Interviewed between classes at Sumner, the dark-haired girl with warm eyes described her coming-of-age party as a life-shifting event.
“I think of how big the party was, I did feel the big change. Everything is just about you,” she recalled. “[Guests] are making it known that you should be transforming into a woman.”
Departing Maine Dec. 10, the days leading up to the Dec. 28 quinceañera were a whirlwind of activity. Like a future bride, Ana Rosa was bustled off from Santa Ana Maya to a nearby town, Morelion, in search of the perfect dress. Besides her mother, her aunt Sara Jungo and cousin, Ana Clemencia, joined in the hunt. At a boutique called Novias Silvana, she tried on five to seven dresses before finding the right one. The coral, floor-length dress has a princess skirt adorned with hand-stitched flowers, off-the-shoulder sleeves and a train.
Next up on the to-do list was learning the highly ritualized dance steps to be performed as part of the quinceañera. Enter family friend and local choreographer Clemencio, who is considered the best coach.
“Everybody wants him,” Rosalba says.
Dec. 28 dawned in Santa Ana Maya, where mornings are chilly — dipping to as low as 40 degrees F overnight — but the daytime temp steadily climbs to a mostly dry 85 degrees F.
Ana Rosa says laughing, though, the weather is never cold “like it is here [in Maine].”
Up at 7 a.m., for a final, hour-long dance rehearsal, the extravaganza’s star then holed up at a beauty salon where family friend and stylist Juan Luis did her hair, creating a partial up-do with curls falling freely on her shoulders.
Every step of the way, she closely conferred with her classmates and other close friends back in Downeast Maine.
“They were so helpful,” she said. “They knew how special this was for me.”
At the strike of 4 o’clock, relatives and friends filled Santa Ana Maya’s Catholic church, the Pasillo Central Del Atrio Parroquial, for a 45-minute service in which Ana Rosa was escorted in by her handsome groomsmen or chambelanes — including her brother Angel — who were at her side during all the festivities. As part of the rite, several godmothers presented her with engraved jewelry.
Next, Ana Rosa was whisked off in a white stretch limo to a local hall The Miami Venue, where some 400 guests dined, danced and celebrated late into the night. Shimmering coral and silver drapes, sparkling with fairy lights, hung from the ceiling to the floor. A chandelier glittered above the tables adorned with flowers and 15 balloons.
In keeping with tradition, Ana Rosa and her father Elio kicked off the dancing to the “Vals de Amor” played by the DJ.
“It was definitely emotional because I was the last daughter,” she remembered, noting, “That was the last quinceañera for my family.”
Further symbolizing her coming of age, Ana Rosa was crowned with a tiara, received her last doll from her aunt Ofelia Valencia and toasted her guests with her first drink. She also presented 15 roses to close family members.
Later on, Ana Rosa and her escorts — all clad in casual black attire — entertained the crowd with their dance moves set to a mashup of pop and hip-hop songs.
Later Ana Rosa’s life was chronicled in a slide show. Sitting beside her were Elio and Rosalba. Like their daughter, the parents have the same warm demeanor, kind smiles and eagerness to share the details of the quinceañera. The couple described the celebration as “happy and sad” and “a beautiful feeling” marking the end of their youngest daughter’s childhood and start of her adult life.
For Ana Rosa, what made the quinceañera extra special was having it in Mexico even though she has lived in Maine her whole life. Her family’s roots and ties there remain strong.
“It was 10 times more special having it with family I never get to see,” she said. “[Having] them see me grow up, it’s amazing.”
With her daughter Yesenia translating, Rosalba noted that her own family could not afford to host a quinceañera when she turned 15. With her smiling almond eyes, she called Ana Rosa’s coming-of-age celebration “a dream coming true.”