Two cultures come together at teen’s surprise party


Stir together a tropical garden and a smattering of snowflakes. Add a dash of Colombia and a dollop of the United States. Season with touches of a quinceanera, the traditional coming-of-age party for 15-year-old girls in Latin and Hispanic cultures, and a Sweet 16 party, the popular age-based celebration for girls in this country.

The delicious result of this melting-pot mixture was Luz Angelica Upequi’s “QSS” celebration Nov. 7 at the Quad City Botanical Center, a surprise party that left the Alleman High School sophomore with “the best feeling I have ever felt in my 16 years of life!”

The QSS — a combination of a quinceanera and Sweet 16 party — was planned meticulously by Luz Angelica’s parents, Jose Manuel and Luz Helena Upegui of Coal Valley.


Mr. and Mrs. Upegui are natives of Colombia, and they and their children — Luz Angelica and Jose Luis, 19 — travel to South America every year to visit members of their extended family. But the Upeguis are also naturalized American citizens who have lived here for several years.

“We both love this country so much,” Mrs. Upegui said in an emotion-filled voice. “We are the product of both cultures, and we have tried to teach our children to love traditions from both places.”

Which led to a dilemma when it came time to celebrate Luz Angelica’s coming of age. Did she want to have a quinceanera or a Sweet 16 party? And would it take place in Colombia or the Quad-Cities? According to her mother, Luz Angelica was torn — she didn’t want to celebrate without her Quad-Cities friends, but she also didn’t want to leave out her relatives in Columbia.


“I would talk to my mom about it when I was 14, trying to decide if I wanted a quince or a Sweet 16,” Luz Angelica said in an e-mail. “If I wanted it here or in Colombia, South America. I couldn’t make up my mind.

“I just love that I got to actually have both when I wasn’t even expecting anything! It was incredible!”


Luz Angelica wasn’t expecting anything because the party truly was a surprise to her. Though weeks of planning went into it, no one spilled the secret.

On Luz Angelica’s actual birthday, Oct. 30, her family took her out to dinner and gave her a few presents. “She said it was fine, but we knew she wasn’t totally happy,” her mother said. “Little did she know we were already working on having this surprise party for her!”


They decided to have the party at the Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island because its tropical garden reminded Luz Angelica of Colombia, but they decorated the reception room with a winter theme “since she always dreamed about her quinceanera being under snowflakes,” Mrs. Upegui said. “She loves both — summer in the tropics and winter in the Midwest.”

The Rev. Paco Trujillo of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in East Moline became part of the happy party conspiracy, agreeing to conduct the Mass that would be part of a traditional quinceanera celebration.

In order to introduce Luz Angelica to her part of the religious ceremony without giving away the surprise, the family told her Rev. Trujillo needed her to help recreate a quinceanera in a program showcasing various cultural traditions.

Her mother took her shopping for a special dress to wear at the supposed program. Although Luz Angelica didn’t know it, she actually was picking out her QSS dress.

In the days before the party, her friends Tori Scarpinato and Mary Anne McLaughlin helped out. Mary Anne reviewed the music that had been picked for the party, and Tori invited Luz Angelica to stay overnight at her home, so that relatives could arrive at the Upegui home in secret.

On the night of the big surprise, about 75 friends and relatives gathered at the Botanical Center shortly before Mrs. Upegui brought Luz Angelica there for what she thought would be a dress rehearsal for a cultural program.

“When I walked into the Botanical Center and saw my father, I was completely confused, and when he said, ‘Happy birthday, Princess,’ I had no idea what he was talking about!” Luz Angelica recalled. “Then I looked behind him and I saw all of my friends, my godparents from Memphis, and my friends from Chicago and from here coming my way.

“At that moment, everything clicked — from the lie of having a dress rehearsal for a culture exhibition, to all the lies of my friends, to the little things I noticed were weird throughout the past month, but I never really cared enough to say anything. I felt my mouth drop wide open. I was astounded and completely speechless!”

Obviously, the party was a success.

Mrs. Upequi said she hopes other families will be inspired by the idea of blending two cultural traditions, and her daughter agreed.

“I recommend that all girls who have a Latino background and were born and raised here in the U.S. should have a QSS,” she said. “It was such a wonderful experience for me, from the surprise to the Mass to the party! I look back and see how much hard work and love went into the planning of this amazing birthday party!”

Facebook Comments