Rites of Passage

When does a girl become a woman? For some, cultural tradition marks the moment

theessentials_masa_tThe Bat Mitzvah
After half a year of studying, Cayla Kaplowitz, 13, feels ready to recite from the Torah at her bat mitzvah. During a service at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, she’ll receive her first tallith, or prayer shawl, address the congregation, and be showered with candy. “Now it’s my responsibility to keep the Jewish tradition,” says Cayla. The day will be distinguished by another first: wearing high heels. “I’m only four foot ten,” she says, explaining her choice of black suede wedges. “I should be, like, five foot one by now!” To Cayla, becoming a woman means fighting less with her younger sister and listening to her parents more. That is, when she’s not watching Project Runway on the new TV in her bedroom. “I’ve been asking for one as long as I’ve lived,” she says. 


theessentials_masa_tThe Philippine Debut
Alpha Joy Ferrer, 18, broke a sweat preparing for her Philippine Debut, a coming-of-age party where she’ll perform a ballroom dance with an 18-person court of family and friends who have made a difference in her life. At the Lake Mission Viejo Clubhouse, 200 guests will look on as Alpha Joy dances with nine men (including uncles, cousins, her pastor, and a high school principal), while candles are lit by nine women (aunts, her grandmother, older friends). “It makes me feel reassured that I won’t let go of my Filipino culture even though I don’t speak the language,” she says.


theessentials_masa_tThe Quinceañera
For months Jessica Reyes, 14, has been planning her ’50s-themed quinceañera, the Latino celebration that commemorates a girl’s transition to womanhood, but she’s looked forward to the day since she attended one as a preschooler. At her ceremony, to be held six days after she turns 15, Jessica will thank friends and family for their support and bring flowers to the Virgin Mary during Mass at St. Agnes Church downtown. Then she’ll dance to hip-hop at a party for 200 guests. Instead of the customary necklace and bracelet, Jessica has asked for a purity ring to symbolize her decision to abstain from premarital sex. “I maybe don’t feel like an adult yet,” she says, “but I feel like my decisions are getting better. Now I think about my future. Some of my friends still act like they are in eighth grade.”


theessentials_masa_tThe Sweet 16
To honor her 16th birthday, Maya Castro, 15, is turning the Harlyne J. Norris Pavilion in Rolling Hills into a Vegas-themed casino, complete with a nightclub that serves mock cocktails. The oldest of four, the Palos Verdes High School sophomore is the ?rst in her family to throw a Sweet 16. To Maya, growing up means hanging around with the right people at school, being a good driver, and studying hard to get into her ?rst-choice college, UCLA. “My mom and dad are more lenient now and not as overprotective,” she says. Still, there are limits.  “My dad’s not really into the idea of me dating.”

Photographs by Dustin Snipes

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