Erica Yurvati ’15 is 21 years old. But this weekend, for the purposes of tradition and celebration, she stepped into the shoes of a 15-year-old quinceañera.
QuinceYALEa, sponsored by La Casa Cultural and Ezra Stiles College, took place in the Stiles dining hall on Saturday evening. The event was held in honor of the 15th anniversary of the founding of Ballet Folklórico, one of La Casa’s oldest student organizations, and attracted approximately 120 students and University administrators including University President Peter Salovey, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90.
The event was modeled after the traditional Latin American quinceañera ceremony, which commemorates a 15-year-old girl’s entrance into womanhood. Yurvati was chosen to be the quinceañera through an application process in which girls who had been unable to have a quinceañera previously were considered. Throughout the night, quinceañera traditions such as the changing of the shoes and the court dance were upheld, and a number of groups performed, including Ballet Folklórico.
Speakers at the event said the night was meant to feel personal while reaffirming connections within and across cultural groups and campus organizations.
“This is a celebration of Erica, of course, but also a celebration of Ballet Folklórico,” Director of La Casa Rosalinda Garcia said in her remarks. “[I] see all of the time that you put into your student groups. We don’t take your work for granted.”
When it was Yurvati’s turn to speak, she tore up her prepared remarks. She spoke about the difficulty of coping with her father’s leukemia, which had initially prevented her from having a quinceañera, and his subsequent death. When she first arrived at Yale as a freshman, she said she felt sad and scared and had wondered if the decision to attend Yale was a mistake.
Although Yurvati said it has not become any easier to deal with her father’s death, she said she appreciates the support of her friends and the Yale community.
“I came to Yale and I felt like there was support [here] to figure out who I was and where I want to go next,” Yurvati said. Addressing audience members, she added that people at Yale have understood her in ways that people back home could not.
Ezra Stiles Master Stephen Pitti and Associate Master Alicia Schmidt Camacho served as the padrino and madrina, or godfather and godmother, to Yurvati during the ceremony.
Pitti proposed a toast to the idea of having a home. He gave a brief history of Ezra Stiles, an 18th century minister who studied Native American houses and homes, and of Ezra Stiles College, explaining that many of the first inhabitants of the college transferred in because they felt like outsiders in their respective communities.
William Genova ’15, who helped plan QuinceYALEa, said he was proud of the event and all those who helped with its organization. QuinceYALEa showcased a celebratory aspect of Latino culture, he said, and was particularly notable because it was held outside of La Casa and was therefore more inclusive and welcoming to students from other cultural groups and backgrounds.
Other attendees praised the event for uniting cultural groups within La Casa and promoting Latino traditions to the Yale community.
Mariel Novas ’10, who attended the first quinceañera that La Casa hosted in 2007, said it was inspiring to see the Latino community still be so active on campus. She said this year’s event, like the one she attended as an undergraduate, started as a small endeavor, but took on a life of its own.
Jennifer Ramos ’10, who was in the court of the first quinceañera, said the Latino presence at Yale has been historically dominated by Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. Quinceañeras help unite Latinos and showcase different cultures, she said.
Maria Brumell GRD ’04, assistant dean of Yale College and former director of the Asian Chicano Cultural Center at Yale, said she was happy to see Yale appreciate the diverse cultures of its students.
“It’s very easy to see that traditions are not just being maintained, but enriched,” Brumell said.
Rather than asking for traditional gifts from attendees, organizers asked guests to sign up to be bone marrow donors. Mahbuba Tusty ’16, who heard about the event because her suitemate is a staff member at La Casa, commended the event planning team for this decision. Having worked on a marrow drive before, she said she knows that it is difficult to get minorities to sign up to donate and to recognize its importance.
All attendees interviewed said the event was a success.
Still, Garcia and Genova both said the QuinceYALEa would not be annual. Genova said the occasion will probably be reserved for celebrations of other groups’ 15th anniversaries, while Garcia said she hopes the event will be held once every four or five years so that all students have the opportunity to attend one.
La Casa Cultural was established in its current position in 1977.