The Debut: A Filipino tradition

Each successive birthday marks new opportunities: 16 means driving, 17 means R rated movies, 18 means lotto tickets, voting, and big kids jail. Birthdays also provide an excuse to be showered with gifts and attention. American birthdays usually consist of Costco cake and out of tune renditions of “Happy Birthday.” Three MC seniors, Lauren Saclauso, Arianne Oabel, and Kiara Andra, each closed out 2017 with their 18th birthdays, and welcomed in the new year by partaking in the Filipino tradition of the debut.

“[A debut is]  an 18th birthday celebration for Filipino girls, kind of like a coming-of-age [party]celebrating their introduction to society,” Saclauso said.

Andrada with escort, Mikayla Ortiz
Photo courtesy of Kiara Andrada

There are three major traditions as part of the marathon party that is a debut. There is the cotillion or formal court, in which the debutante makes her grand entrance along with an escort. This kicks off the evening, as the debutante enters with eight pairs of guys and girls dancing their way into the night.

“Its one of the few parts of a traditional debut that I decided to keep because it has all of my good friends on the court and my mom told me that those are the people you want to keep in your life forever,” Andrada said.

The other two components are the 18 roses and the 18 candles. The roses are 18 male figures in the debutantes lives, that present her with a rose, and in exchange the pair share a short dance. The candles are 18 important females to the debutante, that give a short speech full of love and birthday wishes.

“For the roses I picked relatives and friends and  I created a mix with 45 seconds to a minute of each song which I picked specifically for the person I danced with,” Sacauso said. “For the 18 candles I also picked friends and family along with important people in my life who have impacted who I am and they all had about 30 seconds to a minute speech and most of them cried.”

Saclaso dancing with her father
Photo credit | Emily Seiter

While each debutante decide to incorporate the traditions in their own way, Oabel decide to create a tradition of her own.

“I have the typical rose and candles but I decided to also include a little lantern ceremony,” Oabel said. “18 of my friends released 18 balloon lanterns and made wishes for my 18th birthday. I wanted to integrate my friends more into the ceremony because in American culture there is a lot of emphasis on choosing who you want to be around meanwhile Filipino culture has more emphasis on the closeness of family and I wanted to have both of that in my party.”

Filipino culture does have a greater focus on family, and this influence can be seen in each of these girls’ parties.

“It was really fun because even though a lot of my family is in San Diego I don’t get to see them all the time but having the celebration really brought my extended family and my extended friends together,” Saclauso said. “I was able to have a lot of the people I love and care about in the same room.”

As Filipino-Americans, these girls grew up vastly different in comparison to those family members that grew up on the island, and this privilege is not lost on them.

Oabel with Saclauso and Gwen Gwathney
Photo Courtesy of Oabel

“I didn’t think I was going to have one until a few months before the party,” Oabel said. “I ultimately decided to because it’s a big part of becoming a woman in our culture and my mom and my grandma and the female side of my family has never actually had one, and growing up here in America and them having their opportunities enable me to have something  like this in my life and it is also something for them to experience, not just me”

More than just an excuse to be celebrated, the debut allows for these girls to keep in touch with their background.

“I think it’s important to keep in touch with my culture because it is a part of who I am,” Andrada said. “Even though I don’t follow all traditions and customs, I do what I can to show that I am proud of my heritage. I like being connected to my roots and understanding more about myself.”

Written by Lindy Verhage

Lindy is a Senior at MC and the Sun's Editor in Chief. She enjoys long-winded, antiquated idioms, big dogs that think they are small dogs, and traveling to local bookstores. She is an ambidextrous ice cream scooper and advocator of siestas.

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