La Quinceañera: Somerville Community. Sara Arcaya. 18 December PDF

La Quinceañera: Performances of Race, Culture, Class and Religion in the Somerville Community Sara Arcaya Assisted by Somerville Charter High School Student: Bianca Salazar 18 December 2004 Tufts University

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La Quinceañera: Performances of Race, Culture, Class and Religion in the Somerville Community Sara Arcaya Assisted by Somerville Charter High School Student: Bianca Salazar 18 December 2004 Tufts University Urban Borderlands Fall 2004: The Cambridge/Somerville Oral Latino History Project Anthropology 183: Professor Pacini-Hernández Acknowledgements I greatly appreciate the following individuals for so generously and candidly contributing to this project: Heidy Castro Milagro Garcia Daisy Gómez Berta Guevara Bianca Salazar Nelson Salazar Jessica Tejada Many thanks also to Professor Pacini-Hernández, Michelle Fuentes, The Welcome Project, Cecilia Dos Santos, Lexie McGovern, Alex Weissman, my mother, Jane Arcaya, St. Benedict s Parish, and the 2004 Urban Borderlands class! 2 Table of Contents Introduction..4 Objectives.7 Methodology.8 List of Narrators..10 Chapter 1: Symbols of Womanhood in the Quinceañera 12 Chapter 2: Quinceañeras Impacting Identity...17 o o o o Bilingualism Forming a Collective Identity Race and Ethnicity Class Chapter 3: Economic Factors in the Quinceañera 23 o o o o o o o o Miniature Brides & Estimated Expenditures High Cost Parties in a Low Income Neighborhood On Adopting Padrinos Spending as a Unit, Creating Communities Through Quinceañeras The Dress as it Corresponds to Socio-Economic Status At Odds with a Religious Agenda A Modest Fiesta Honorees Gain Ownership Through Economic Responsibility Chapter 4: The Religious Component of the Quinceañera..37 Chapter 5: Fiestas Clavel: A Somerville-born Tradition.43 Final Remarks..48 Bibliography.51 3 Introduction Más que tradición religiosa, es una tradición del pueblo, ve, y claro cada tradición del pueblo y cada cultura trae consigo lo que toda la vida vivieron, according to Daisy Gómez, this is the quinceañera. The quinceañera is at once a tradition in a community a reminder of its depth and history while still an ever-changing celebration. It is a tradition of the people, a lived experience that evolves with those who practice it. This paper is the culmination of seven interviews with members of the Somerville, Massachusetts Latino community and is one part of an on-going project to record and make available that community s oral history. Somerville is a city that lies along the Mystic River, five miles north of Boston. Most Tufts students think of Somerville as Davis Square, which is a ten-minute walk from campus. However, a short drive through Winter Hill and into East Somerville reveals quite a different community. Rather than seeing working class white residents whose Somerville ties extend back generations, or Tufts alumnae who have found jobs in nearby Cambridge, one is more likely to meet Salvadorans who have immigrated to the U.S. within the last twenty-five years. Restaurants like Tapatío and Los Paisanos are the significant places rather than the Joshua Tree and Starbucks. And the dominant language shifts from English to Spanish. Somerville s predominately Salvadoran Latino population began to grow in the 1980s, when Central America experienced violent civil wars in three countries Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Elena Letona, Cambridge community organizer 4 at Centro Presente, refers to this immigration wave as an exodus, claiming that between 1990 and 2000 the Salvadoran community in Massachusetts grew 139%. According to Who Are New England s Immigrants? close to one in three Somerville residents are foreign born, most of whom are Salvadoran or Brazilian (Mammie and Ricardo). Excluded under the U.S. s Refugee Act of 1980, Salvadorans existed in a sort of limbo with regards to their political status provisionally protected under temporary protected status, settlement, or workers visas. By 1986 Somerville joined about twenty other cities that pledged to protect illegal immigrants fleeing Central America s civil wars, proclaiming itself a Sanctuary City. As Elaina Letona explains, Salvadorans in Massachusetts, as other immigrant communities, are not organized around geography, but around ethnicity. Many Salvadorans, because of Somerville s willingness to accept them regardless of their official immigration status, established roots in the city, making it more feasible for friends, families, and even entire communities to join. A Tufts University class now in its third year, Urban Borderlands, introduced me to this community. The goal of this anthropology class is to document the oral history of Somerville Latinos and to teach students about conducting qualitative research through one-on-one interviews. The fall 2004 class is looking at the arrival and integration of Latinos into Somerville through eight research topics including that of businesspeople, religious life, and youth programs, all co-occurring with my own study on quinceañeras. While many students at Tufts can basically get by without descending the hill for four years, Urban Borderlands forces students to learn by experience. The class brings students into the community, allowing them to understand first hand the local politics, social issues, and customs. Little or none of this would otherwise make headlines at 5 Tufts. The class met several times in the community, working in special partnership with The Welcome Project, an advocacy agency run by Nelson Salazar. Located in Somerville s Mystic Public Housing Development, The Welcome Project has dedicated itself to serving immigrant populations and facilitating their integration into Somerville since Students from the Urban Borderlands class were paired with high school students connected to The Welcome Project in order to conduct research and gain entrance into the Somerville Latino community. My partner, Bianca Salazar, daughter of Nelson Salazar, is currently a junior at Somerville Charter High School. Bianca was especially helpful for a number of reasons: Bianca speaks Spanish fluently and knows her community. She largely inspired this research topic and agreed to let me interview her. In one of my first meetings with Bianca she described her quinceañera, which took place two years earlier. She was still excited about it. I wondered what purpose the quinceañera served on the community level, why it continues to thrive across borders and cultures, how it has affected Somerville, and how Somerville has affected it. When the Urban Borderland reports are assembled into a comprehensive study of Somerville s Latino population, many chapters will reveal a community largely excluded from Somerville proper. It faces constant discrimination, has virtually no political representation, and has low home ownership rates. To be accurate, the book will also need to reflect the positive aspects that make a cohesive community. This chapter would reveal everyday life for Latinos in Somerville, what they value, and how these values translate into cultural events. 6 One such traditional celebration is the quinceañera, a coming of age ceremony for fifteen-year-old Latinas and Latin Americans. Because of the economic, racial, and cultural diversity among these societies, the quinceañera can take many forms. It most typically involves, however, both a religious and social ceremony in which the honoree gives thanks to God, the Virgin Mary, her family, and her social circle for having brought her thus far in life. While the quinceañera has often been compared to the Sweet Sixteens and Debutante Balls of Anglo Americans, C.C.D. director Daisy Gómez insists that it has nothing to do with these other coming of age celebrations. It is instead a Hispanic religious event that sustains and invigorates communities and takes unique shape in the context of Somerville. This project is truly a collaborative one involving the Urban Borderlands class, Bianca Salazar, The Welcome Project, and greater Somerville. Objectives The goal of this paper is to look from an anthropological perspective at the long held tradition of quinceañeras in the context of Somerville s Latino community. Each interview, though broad in its subject matter, was guided by the overarching question: what purpose does the quinceañera serve in Somerville? Their community and unique places in society have of course influenced the respondents; their statements reflect their views alone and should not be interpreted as reflections of all of Somerville. The report explores how the narrators performance of the tradition reflects their unique locations in society, as members of a marginalized and economically disadvantaged group with close ties to their sending nations. Hardly passive participants, Somerville Latinos have collectively influenced the shape of this longstanding cultural tradition, one that now 7 incorporates local values and bicultural influences. It also reflects how the community perceives itself. Narrators statements were largely in tune with Saint Benedict s C.C.D. director, Daisy Gómez s assertion. The quinceañera is a lived experience that moves with the people who practice it something that is at once constant, a reminder of the depth and history of one s culture, and still dynamic, reflecting the daily reality of Somerville Latinos. The following report details those elements of the quinceañera that the narrators found were of notable significance to them. It also contends that the quinceañera continues in Somerville because it actively creates and strengthens the community. Methodology During two and a half months, I conducted seven interviews for this project, three in conjunction with Bianca Salazar my high school contact. The first few interviews were contained within the Welcome Project network, but as one narrator introduced me to the next, and so on, I began extending my reach into the greater community. The topics of each interview included the religious significance of a quinceañera, the economic factors involved, and the concepts of beauty and feminity the custom reveals. Each interview took place in Somerville in the Welcome Project, narrators homes, at a local business, and in Saint Benedict s parish and lasted between forty-five and sixty minutes. I entered each interview with a set of questions specific to my narrator and his or her role in the quinceañera tradition, conducting the conversation in either Spanish or English, as per his or her preference. Most interviews took the form of personal stories much more than a strict question and answer exchange. The narrators all signed consent forms giving me rights to their interviews for the purpose of this oral history project. 8 As the project progressed, my focus became narrower. I began adding questions, asking narrators to comment on concepts and trends explained in past interviews, and about conclusions I was generating. My focus population also began to take shape as I realized that at least six out of seven of my narrators were part of Saint Benedict s congregation. Given that religion is especially tied to the Somerville Salvadoran quinceañera, the Saint Benedict s connection became a significant element of my report and tied narrators experiences to one institution and religious community. Since this project only covered one semester, I was limited as to the amount of material I could gather. There is certainly more work to be done. There are many other communities within the Somerville Latino population, as well as countless other areas of which one could conduct research. This is a population largely ignored by the public eye, though with a wealth of experiences and knowledge to share. At the conclusion of this report, I will suggest further areas of study. 9 List of Narrators Heidy Castro is twenty-one years old and of Salvadoran descent. She was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1983 and was raised in Somerville. She currently has a two-year old son and lives with her family a short distance from The Welcome Project. Heidy is an active parishioner at Saint Benedict s and was introduced to me by the religious director there, Daisy Gómez. Milagro Garcia, owner of Doña Milagro s in Somerville, emigrated from El Salvador on May 4, Doña Milagro s specializes in women s formalwear, selling dresses for weddings, quinceañeras, and graduation celebrations. She draws an entirely Latino clientel and has participated in the oral history project once before, for a study called The Latino Business Community in Somerville, MA by David Pistrang and Emily Chasan. I do not know whether Milagro Garcia attends Saint Benedict s Parish. Daisy Gómez immigrated to the United States in 1957 from Cuba. She has been living in Dorchester, Massachusetts for over forty years, though is closely tied to the Somerville community. As director of religious education and assistant to the pastor at Saint Benedict s, she is in charge of almost all projects the parish undertakes with respect to the Somerville Hispanic community. Berta Guevara is a Salvadoran woman who immigrated to the United States in 1993 and has since become an active member of the Saint Benedict s congregation. Berta is an 10 instructor at the religious school, a lector during Sunday mass, and takes care of many administrative tasks. Bianca Salazar is seventeen years old and currently a junior at the Somerville Charter High School. She is a Salvadoran Latina who had her quinceañera two years prior to this report. Both my high school partner and one of my seven narrators, Bianca was the first to provide the essential perspective of a quinceañera honoree, giving my study both depth and direction. She also suggested that I get to know Saint Benedict s and interview the CCD director. Nelson Salazar, father of Bianca Salazar, is founder and director of Somerville s The Welcome Project. He immigrated to the United States from Sonsonante, El Salvador in Nelson Salazar and The Welcome Project have been working with Urban Borderlands for two years now, pairing high school and college students to learn about and document the Somerville Latino population s oral history. Jessica Tejada is seventeen years old, of Salvadoran descent, and a junior at the Somerville Charter High School. She is connected to the Urban Borderlands class through The Welcome Project and has been interviewing the Somerville Latino business community as part of a study entitled, The Latino Business Community and the City of Somerville. 11 From girl to señorita. It was a way to present them to society the upper-class society Chapter 1: Symbols of Womanhood in the Quinceañera While the focus of this paper lies in exploring the current purpose of the quinceañera in Somerville, a basic understanding of its roots gives insight into the tradition s current form. According to Nelson Salazar, quinceañeras came to the Americas with the Spaniards, who had adopted the tradition from the French. Although Mr. Salazar attributes the tradition to Spain, not all sources agree. There is apparently no conclusive evidence of this exchange. Quinceañera presentations are unknown in Spain, and even in the sixteenth century court presentations were more akin to presentation balls of particular groups, like fraternal organizations or to social events, like debutante balls, (Cantú 1999) the religious ceremony sets quinceañeras apart from these secular functions. Others like Norma E. Cantú have claimed, though this did not come up in any of my interviews, that at least some portion of the quinceañera can be traced back to indigenous roots. She says that while the pendant typically given to an honoree on her fifteenth birthday and blessed during the religious ceremony symbolizes coming-of-age, it also functions as an identity marker that focuses her attention on her cultural heritage and establishes a direct link to her indigenous past (Cantú 2002). Regardless of the quinceañera s first incorporation into Latin/o cultures, it now consistently signals coming of age, in both a social and religious sense. 12 Traditionally, quinceañeras signal a female s transformation, from girl to señorita. It was a way to present them to society the upper-class society, Mr. Salazar says. Although the Salazars are by no means wealthy, He says that quinceañeras became a tradition for a lot of us. Given that Somerville s Salvadoran population is quite recent, working class, and still establishing itself in the city, the tradition has veered from its original presentation of a girl to society. Storeowner Milagro Garcia believes that now only Brazilians maintain this perspective in Somerville. Salvadorans and many other Latin American groups, she said, place greater emphasis on the more general concept of coming of age. One honoree, Heidy Castro, similarly acknowledged the social connotation of the quinceañera and a young woman s presentation to society. She, however, places higher value on the way that it presents a young woman to the parish and to God. It is as if she is entregando su juventud a Dios una juventud sana, (giving her youth to God, her healthy youth), through the religious ceremony, Heidy explained. Coming of age in a specifically religious context, however, will be treated in a later chapter. The celebration also entails a secular concept of coming of age and reflects an infusion of cultural markers of this maturity. Milagro Garcia indicates one such marker, the crown. Mexican girls, she asserts, signal personal growth as they enter the church wearing a corona de adolescente and leave wearing a corona de señorita, to signal that they are ready for suitors and have entered womanhood but that s another culture, she clarified. Symbolizing this transformation into a señorita, Heidy s father, once they arrived at Saint Anthony s Church for her party, ceremonially, before all of the guests, removed her flat shoes and replaced them with high heels. She also pointed out that 13 some mothers give their daughters a doll for the last time on the quinceañera as a keepsake. Though Bianca did not incorporate either of these traditions into her quinceañera, she too believes the event marks coming of age saying, It was pretty much saying that now I had become a young lady, that I was entering high school, and that I was no longer a child. All narrators mentioned that the quinceañera symbolizes one s passage from youth into womanhood, though their concepts of womanhood certainly differ. In describing their understanding of womanhood, Bianca and Heidy placed special emphasis on responsibility. As a teenage female now ready to have boyfriends, Bianca learned she would have to respect her body as the church preached. Berta Guevara, a lector at Saint Benedict s Parish, meets with most honorees to talk about such sexual transformations before their quinceañera. She stresses that while they have matured, honorees have not quite entered into womanhood but have grown from niña (little girl) to jóven (youth). Warning that they are still young and especially vulnerable, Ms. Guevara says that Somerville youth need to respect their bodies and demand that same respect from others. Heidy came to reflect on this concept of womanhood when asked how she might prepare a quinceañera if she were to have daughter. For it to be a success, Heidy imagines, her daughter would have to understand what it means to be a good woman, to be dependable, and to care for herself. A good woman, Heidy defines as someone who follows her own mother s example, even in her absence; a good woman behaves herself; and continues to make herself better, moving forward each day. Heidy spoke further about the responsibilities that one assumes as a woman, saying that she must leave her dolls behind and realize that she has to depend on herself instead of her 14 parents. Parents, Heidy says, have this same concept of womanhood. They believe they should be able to leave their daughter alone by age fifteen; upon return, the house should be in order and their daughter should have prepared dinner for the family. In Heidy s experience, the
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