Rostraver Township girl celebrates her Quinceanera
Margarita Angelina Lourdes Hart doesn't remember much about her native Guatemala.
As an infant, she was adopted by Heather Hart of Rostraver Township in February of 2000 and brought to the Mid-Mon Valley, where she was raised by her new mother and grandmother, Linda Hart.
But the soon-to-be Belle Vernon Area High School freshman returned to her roots Sunday, celebrating her Quinceanera.
Known by other names such as fiesta de quince años, the event is a rite of passage for Latino girls marking the transition from childhood into adulthood.
Margarita, a loquacious girl with a passion for history, compares the ceremony to a Bat Mitzvah. She will officially turn 15 on Thursday.
“You're 15, you're coming of age and you're going to become a woman,” she said. “In the church service, you're pledging yourself to God and to try and be pure.
“I went on the internet to research Quinceaneras and they had different versions from other countries like Puerto Rico and the Dominican,” she added. “I thought the Mexican version fit better because it followed the type of religion we follow, which is Anglican Catholic.”
To start her special day, Hart went through a traditional Mass on Sunday afternoon at St. Mary Anglican Church in Charleroi.
Co-officiated by the Rev. Bob Hanna and the Rev. Bob Coval, the Mass traditionally sees the priest advise the young woman on how to maintain morals and be an upstanding citizen. The service included traditional parts of a Catholic Mass such as readings from the Bible and communion.
As a sign of respect, Hart presented flowers at the statue of the Virgin Mary — seen as a guiding influence in women's lives. Hart was also presented with a rosary, a Bible and a tiara blessed by the priests.
One of the biggest deals for Hart — as for many girls approaching their Quinceanera — was picking out a dress.
“It's the dress. That is the one thing that every girl wants to get,” Hart said, beaming at the thought.
“Originally, it was supposed to be big and puffy and white as a sign of purity, but the second color most popular is pink and that's the color I chose. And it's still pretty puffy.”
Much like a wedding ceremony, Hart was accompanied in church by a “court of honor” — seven boys and seven girls who she considers her closest friends.
Per tradition, the role of Hart's male escort was filled by Josef Raszewski, a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School, who she said is “like a big brother to me.”
A reception followed at the Rostraver Central Fire Hall with deejay Richard Goodboy, Margarita's uncle who traveled in from Virginia Beach.
The reception included a catered meal, cake, and cookies — and a handful of traditional ceremonies.
Hart and Raszewski performed a choreographed dance for those in attendance. There was also the traditional “ceremony of shoes” where Hart handed in a pair of flats for a pair of heels, representing her transformation into womanhood.
During the traditional doll ceremony, Margarita presented a Latina doll to Reyna Borello, 8, another girl from Guatemala who was adopted locally.
The event was a long time coming for Hart, a native of the poverty-stricken section of Zone 1 in Guatemala City.
“I've been planning this since I was around 5 or 6. ... When I was 13, I asked my parents, ‘So how about that Quinceanera in two years?'” Margarita said, laughing.
Heather Hart has always made sure her daughter kept close to her heritage, from playing Spanish music to her as a toddler to the family attending Latin American cultural events in the area.
“Our whole family has always traced our heritage,” Heather Hart said. “When I adopted Margarita, I promised her birth mother in one of our agreements that corresponded between her and the adoption agency that I would keep her heritage alive.”
“My parents, my Gram and my Mom, always kept my heritage very alive very early in my childhood and I was really glad they did that, because I didn't want to be one of those kids who when (people) ask about where you're from that you knew nothing about it,” she said. “I was always able to say, ‘I'm from Guatemala. This is what happens there, this is how you speak, these are the types of foods you eat.'”
The Harts have never been back to Guatemala since the adoption, but might take a trek when Margarita is an adult.
“We're kind of afraid to take her back with the crime and they might think I'm taking her out of the country illegally,” Heather Hart said.
“When I went down there to adopt her, I had a good experience with the people and they were very kind, but we didn't go off the beaten path too much.”
As per the adoption agreement, Margarita has had no contact with her birth mother, who had been cleaning houses and making tortillas for $90 per month and could not afford to keep her baby daughter.
“I understand she wanted me to have a better life up here ... I know if I was down in Guatemala today I would not be having this because of where I was from. Maybe just a small church service,” Margarita said.
“Like with the Jewish people, they have Bat Mitzvahs but they don't have it over in (Israel) so why can't I have my Quinceanera here?”
The Harts agreed Margarita's special day was a bit costly, but modest compared to the large and upscale Quinceanera some Latino families hold in California and Texas.
Margarita said the day was dear to her heart — but not just about her.
“Everybody said ‘It's your day', but I'm one of those people who have to make sure everybody else is happy,” Margarita said.
“My main goal is that everybody had a good time and that way I know that my heritage gets a day that shows people you can have a great time experiencing a different culture.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.