Monday, November 5, 2007
Filipinas and Debuts
About a week ago I was invited to a a former student’s 18th birthday party. In the Philippines, that is uniformly called a debut. That invitation was probably one of my biggest problems of the year. I was thinking of not attending for two reasons. First, I have a legendary dislike for formal stuff and second, my feet are shaped like Wolverine’s claws and don’t fit well in those expensive straps of leather they call formal sandals. I either end up walking like a constipated duck or destroying the footwear before I can take a single step.
I still ended up attending but I defiantly wore jeans, a black top and heavily fortified sandals that looked more like those worn by Leonidas’ 300. Fortunately, a bunch of my former students, who didn’t give a damn if I grew a beard to boot, invited me to their table. That practically made me the only adult at the “kid’s” table.
Naturally, like every adult in quarter life crisis (a.k.a. trying hard teenager), I enjoyed my night with the kids. The food was great and the birthday girl was perfectly engaging. Enjoyment aside however, the event has yet again sparked a long dormant question in my mind. I wonder if Filipinos know why we celebrate debuts or why debuts were originally celebrated in the first place. If parents knew what they were for, would we still have debuts?
In the past, debuts for female French and English aristocrats were a sign that the debutantes were ready for marriage. It was also an indirect way of “selling” the ladies to the eligible bachelors present. This was done to secure favorable and strategic marriages since women of noble birth at that time were mere pawns used to secure alliances, power and money for families and countries.
Whenever I tell people this story, they invariably say that debuts in the Philippines are different. They are meant to signal a woman’s maturity and independence. This is coming from people who support married children with kids staying under their roofs.
Of course, my former student is quite intelligent. I have no doubt she knew exactly why she wanted a debut.
I, however, also know exactly why I fervently hope my daughter will not want to have a debut. No, its not about the sandals this time.