Every year, Mehling Hall resident assistants and students plan for their annual spring dance, a tradition they have been doing since most can remember. However, seniors Grace Elder, Cindy Garibay, Mackenzie Clark and Assistant Hall Director Luipta Zamora-Resendiz saw this as an opportunity to change tradition into something more meaningful for students.
On Friday, April 21, Mehling Hall will be welcoming UP students and faculty to dance, celebrate and learn about Latinx culture at their first ever Mehling Quinceañera, featuring a performance from Portland State University’s Mariachi.
Starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Mehling Ballroom, the Quinceañera will be an adaptation from the Latin American tradition that celebrates a girl’s transition from childhood to adulthood on their 15th birthday.
It will be a time to celebrate Mehling seniors that will be entering their own version of adulthood as they prepare for graduation in May.
While the event is free, students and faculty can purchase $5 food vouchers or donate non-perishable food items as an equivalent. Vouchers can be purchased at the Mehling front desk, and students that are non-Mehling residents are encouraged to call the RA on duty posted at the front of the building to allow them access inside to purchase a voucher.
“We’re trying to make it accessible in all types of ways,” Elder said.
Elder, Garibay, Clark and Zamora-Resendiz, who have been spearheading the event, came up with the idea originally last semester when one of Elder’s friends had their version of a Quinceañera at their school. For Elder, she felt this was a way to appreciate Latinx culture apart from what they have seen celebrated at UP.
“We wanted to do something that goes beyond Hispanic Heritage Month or Día de los Muertos,” Elder said. “Coming from a predominantly white institution, sometimes it seems really tokenized.”
They have adopted and changed many of the typical characteristics of a Quinceañera to fit their theme of celebrating Mehling seniors — honoring them with medallions that will replace “la última muñeca”meaning “the last doll”and a senior dance that will replace the “baile de mamá/papá” meaning “mother/father-daughter dance”. However, any UP senior that attends the event will be given a flower as a token for their accomplishments.
“We had gone into this whole thing saying that there had to be some sort of intention behind it,” Elder said. “While doing a Quinceañera by the book would be nice, it isn't conducive with our theme of honoring seniors. So, we wanted to make it work for our theme but still in a way honor the tradition.”
With intentionality being crucial to the group's planning, one way they are honoring the Quinceañera tradition is by creating a space for students to learn more about how it's traditionally celebrated. So, along with their adapted and changed parts like the medallions or senior dance, there will be a segment where they explain their traditional counterparts.
“I think that this has been a really cool opportunity for someone like me who had friends who had Quinces,” Clark said. “It's been a really cool opportunity to learn about the history, the tradition and the culture.”
As part of their Quinceañera Spotlight on their Instagram, Mehling residents have also gotten a chance to share their Quinceañera experience and what it means to them. This is also open to any UP student, and submissions can be made through the Mehling Instagram or through the Mehling email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Their intentions of honoring the tradition and highlighting it in a way that doesn’t seem tokenized doesn’t just come from personal beliefs, it’s also a reflection of how the Mehling community has responded to the event.
Initially, Elder, Garibay, Clark and Zamora-Resendiz received feedback from Mehling residents worried that the event would be a form of cultural appropriation or disrespectful to the significant cultural tradition.
“I think this gave us another perspective to consider,” Garibay said. “We know why we are doing this, but people outside of that may not know that unless we're explaining that really clearly.”
This initial backlash gave the group time to step back and rethink about how they wanted to approach the Quinceañera in a way that clearly demonstrated a form of cultural appreciation.
On a personal level, Garibay and Elder understood where the group was coming from. Both identify as Latinx, they have had their own encounters with appropriation of Latinx culture themselves.
“It happens all the time,” Garibay said. “Your stuff isn't respected. So, I understand people being kind of on the defensive about it, especially when they probably had no idea where we were coming from.”
After talking with residents that were concerned and being more transparent about their intentions with the Quinceañera, the response has been positive, making the group hopeful for how the event will turn out after preparing for weeks.
“We're trying to plan a really fun event, but we also want to do it in a way that's meaningful and important,” Garibay said. “The vast majority of our responses [to the Quinceañera] have been people who are really excited about it.”
Kimberly Cortez is the Community Engagement Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.