Transition to adulthood influenced by culture

Anusha Vadlamani | Staff Writer

Sophomore Alexa Garcia celebrated her fifteenth birthday with a quinceañera, a traditional Latin-American celebration of the occasion. She said that the event helped bring her closer to her family.

Turning 18 isn’t the only way to become an adult.

Easing the transition from childhood to adulthood, coming of age traditions celebrate the milestone that is becoming a full-fledged adult. Varying from culture to culture, almost every society has designated rituals, ceremonies, and customs to honor the journey from adolescence to adulthood. 

The Bat Mitzvah in Judaism is a coming of age tradition, specifically for Jewish girls turning 12. In Jewish culture, a Bat Mitzvah is a girl’s rite of passage into the Jewish community as an adult. Freshman Sydney Kraus said that having a Bat Mitzvah opened up opportunities that she otherwise would not have. 

“One of our youth group programs, to be involved, you have to have done a Bat Mitzvah,” Kraus said. “I’m allowed to come to services, and I can help lead some of them. I’m actually a student-teacher for my Sunday school program and help read aliyahs.”

An aliyah is when a member of the Jewish community is called upon to read from the Torah, commonly referred to as the Jewish Bible. During a Bat Mitzvah, the girl has to read aloud a portion of the Torah. Although Kraus has been learning Hebrew, the language of the Torah, for six years, she still had to get a tutor to prepare for the reading.

“I had a tutor, who helped me learn my Hebrew parts,” Kraus said. “I’ve been learning Hebrew since third grade but you’re learning a totally different handwriting because the Torah is different than modern Hebrew. It’s totally different. You have to read it in a certain way. I had to learn all this new stuff that I didn’t know.”

Although the weeks leading up to the Bat Mitzvah were hectic, Kraus said that she was grateful for the process because it brought her closer to her faith and the purpose behind Judaism. 

“People are like ‘oh, I’m only having a Bat Mitzvah because of the money,’” Kraus said. “But it’s like, you should want to be involved in your culture. [A Bat Mitzvah] is a way for us to be involved and share how we’re involved in Judaism.” 

While some coming of age traditions, such as Bat Mitzvahs, revolve around a specific age, others such as the Upanayana in Hinduism are not focused around a set age; rather, the ceremony is conducted when a boy is able to demonstrate a dedicated commitment to Hinduism. The Upanayana, native to South India, is a two-day event that brings the entire community together. Senior Tejas Srinivasan traveled all the way to India so that he could have his Upanayana with his grandparents.

“My grandparents were [in India] and they wanted to see it, so I had mine fairly early,” Srinivasan said. “It was a massive two-day event, and all my extended family came, as well as a bunch of priests.”

The Upanayana, also known as a Sacred Thread Ceremony, ends with the boy receiving a Janoi — a sacred thread made up of three strands. Each of the three strands represents a core value that the wearer is supposed to be mindful of — purity, words, and actions. Srinivasan said that a thread is added after every major milestone in the wearer’s life. 

“The threads signify that you’re capable of performing certain traditions,” Srinivasan said. “I know that once you get married you get a second thread, and when you have kids you get a third thread. It just signifies that you are capable of performing certain Hindu practices.”

Although his Upanayana was in India, Srinivasan has had responsibilities that have followed him back home. Among these responsibilities is a Sandhyavandana, a daily ritual that is performed three times a day.

“It’s a ten-minute ritual that you have to do,” Srinivasan said. “In Hinduism, the sun god is really important so there’s [a ritual] in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. Theoretically, you’re supposed to pray to the sun god at each of these times of the day, and you face specific directions depending on where the sun is at that time.”

Being able to partake in these rituals has meant a lot to Srinivasan because it has brought him closer to his heritage in India.

“My family is extremely orthodox in India,” Srinivasan said. “Even though I’m not as orthodox, it signifies that I am able to participate in everything they do, which is an important thing there. It’s a pretty cool thing because when I go there I get to participate in all the rituals and basically share the same ideas they do.”

Similar to both Bat Mitzvahs and Upanayanas, a quinceañera, native to Latin America is the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday. A quinceañera is the last event a girl experiences with her family before officially becoming a woman. Sophomore Alexa Garcia said that while it was sad letting her childhood go, she was excited to finally become a woman. 

“At the quinceañera, you get your last doll, and it’s a symbol of growing up and leaving your childhood behind; it’s kind of sad,” Garcia said. “But you also get your first pair of heels which is a symbol of becoming older, and becoming a woman.”

Although the quinceañera itself is a one-day event, planning one takes upwards of a year because details, such as finding a venue, require over 8 months of preparation. The most important detail, however, is the dress. Garcia said that the dress is a major influence in determining the outcome of the event.

“The dress is one of the most expensive and important parts,” Garcia said. “The dresses are customized so it’s special to you. Once you choose your dress, it kind of decides how the rest of your party will be. I changed my color like five times, but in the end, I chose red and gold. Most people plan their party around their dress or a theme, but I just chose colors, so everything at the party was red and gold. I loved it.”

While the planning process has been stressful, Garcia said that she is extremely grateful for it because it brought her closer to her family. 

“At first I didn’t really want a big celebration because I didn’t think it was important,” Garcia said. “But then, I saw that it meant a lot to my parents, so I decided to have one. I took three mother-daughter classes, where we spent time together so that my mom could better understand me. There’s also a father-daughter dance, which meant a lot to me because I’ve been through a lot with my dad. Dancing with him brought everything back together.”

Photo contributed by Alexa Garcia.