Last Saturday, I got an impromptu invite to a First Communion celebration for a 12-year-old girl. My friend Ivey said that one of her staff members, Mina, gave her an open invite to the event. Every time I get invited somewhere new and unexpected, I always think about some advice my stepmother gave me when I began to network and didn’t know the rules. She told me to accept any invitation that requested my presence and make everything a learning experience. So I accepted. Since I consider myself a non-denominational believer, I wasn’t familiar with Catholic practices or traditions. I also had never been to a family gathering outside of my own.
My first step was to consult my best friend Google.com to find the perfect gift, and to get briefed on Hispanic norms and etiquette. I learned that money and jewelry are always acceptable as gifts, and that refusing any offer from food to the next event was considered rude. So far, nothing was any different than any celebration for one of my family members. Bring a card, and it better have money in it. If my grandmother offers me something, I eat it. Period. On Saturday, I would have the new bracelet I bought wrapped in pretty pink paper, my camera and an empty stomach.
We arrived to the house about 4 p.m. There were people standing outside, talking and laughing, and children playing in the yard. As we walked toward the house, everyone outside had looks of confusion on their face. I guess it was not very often they saw unfamiliar faces at family events. Mina came outside and greeted us with a big smile. She doesn’t know very much English, but seemed to get the message of warmth and welcome across. She escorted us to the dining area where we met 12-year-old Jennifer, who looked beautiful in a long white gown and mesh headdress. She told us that the ceremony was beautiful and welcomed us into the home. We walked into a big blue room with a long table right in the center. Ivey and I sat down, anticipating a “last supper” feast fit for kings. In the middle of the table there were bowls of fresh cilantro, different varieties of salsa, lime wedges and stacks of warm tortillas wrapped in aluminum foil. Jessica asked us if we wanted sodas while we waited for the food, and we gladly accepted. At this time, she and her brother had been the only ones to speak to us in English.
Her brothers, their wives and cousins all laughed and talked around us. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying it was clear that they were enjoying each other’s company, and enjoying ours as well. Jennifer was like an ice sculpture at a fancy event. The entire party happened around her, and she was the stunning piece in the room that everyone was to admire. When the food arrived, everyone came to sit around the long table. We grabbed utensils and napkins and dug into Barbacoa seasoned to perfection, pinto beans made with olives and green onions, and Mexican rice made from white rice, tomatoes, garlic, onions, parsley, cilantro, peas and carrots. The food was incredible. The conversation was indecipherable.
After dinner, I asked Jennifer when she was going to open her gifts. She said she couldn’t open them until the party was over. I guessed knowing if she liked the gift would be a mystery. As we left the table, more guests arrived and took their place in our seats. The table remained set for garnishing and enjoying the meal, and as guests arrived they took a seat at the table to enjoy it. I couldn’t help but notice how many children were there. It seemed that everyone was married with a family no matter what their age. I admired that. Whenever someone would walk through the door and see us, their first reaction was that same look of confusion we got when we arrived but it would soon after turn into smiles and handshakes. The children however, were not convinced. Many of them were shy and wouldn’t come near us.
Once everyone had enough to eat, Mina brought out Jennifer’s cake. It was chocolate cake with pineapples, whipped icing and a huge buttercream cross on top. Jennifer was instructed to stand behind the cake and the entire room pulled out cameras to snap pictures. She got several pictures alone, and then everyone took their turn standing next to her for pictures.
Around 7:30, Ivey and I decided to thank them for the invite and leave the party. Mina hugged us again, and thanked us for coming. Even though I didn’t understand much of what was being said, I did understand the bond of a strong family that loves one another. I left flat tered that I was invited seeing how important and special it was to everyone there.
It’s not very often I have the opportunity to just sit and observe, and I loved every minute of it. The entire experience was another reminder that no matter what barriers exist, whether they be lingual or racial, a loving family function is universal.