Is There A Magic Number For Women Coming of Age?

by Elpidio Estioko

Tradition and customary practices say there is a magic number! While 15 is the magic number for Latinas coming of age, for Filipinos, it’s when they celebrate their 18th birthday!

This momentous event ushers one of the bonding moments for Filipinos. A young Filipino woman’s 18th birthday is called a debut, a traditional Filipino coming-of-age or age-of-maturity celebration.

On her 18th birthday, a Filipino girl’s parents customarily throw a large party for her, complete with the debutante’s hand-picked court entourage of 18 individuals or multiple sets of 18, to give meaning and importance to the occasion.

On Sept. 19, 2021, my wife Delia and I, along with five of our six children, attended my granddaughter Reanna Kayla Tesoro Estioko’s 18th birthday celebration.

Reanna Kayla is the daughter of my second eldest son, John Edward “JoJo” Estioko and Alvi Tesoro Estioko, RN. The celebration was in Jacksonville, Florida, where they now reside.

The occasion was complete with hand-picked “members of her court” of 18 roses with male guests and 18 candles with female guests. The celebration started with a short prayer invoking a blessing upon the debutante bringing families, relatives, friends together and sharing a glorious event that makes her what she is today.

A special Hawaiian dance was performed by the Estioko siblings who are long members of a halau (Hawaiian dance group) in Santa Clara, California: May, Tweety, and Paul Estioko, with instant, unrehearsed special participation of Tweety’s Hawaiian-born Baby Ellie.

The 18 males presented individual single roses to the debutante and performed the 18-Rose Dance alternately with the debutante. While the 18 selected females lighted candles that were placed in the debutante’s hand.

Then, each delivered a short speech about their relationships with the debutante and special greetings (which somehow ended in a roasting session). That’s how intimate the celebration was!

Reanna Kayla was escorted by her uncle Paul Joseph Estioko from Hawaii. The members of her court were her classmates and close friends: Julian Pedro, Jessica Tran, June Smith, Amanda Nguyen, Joanna Le, Joseph Macandog, Alyssa Raymonvil, and Zhane Bell.

My granddaughter’s debut gave us a chance to remember those days when she was just a baby up to today, as a full-blown lady.

The event reminded me of my eldest daughter Ma. Edelgrace “Gigi” Estioko’s 18th birthday celebration. We didn’t hold the party in a hotel nor a community center but along the main street of our Greenpark Village subdivision in Pasig City.

We closed the main road and rerouted all vehicles in cooperation with barangay officials. It was a community affair with all the ingredients of a debut celebration highlighting the cotillion dance, of course. Gigi is now living in Sydney, Australia with her husband Eric Malapitan, RN.

Just like Filipino debuts, Latino women reaching their 15th birthday celebrate their quinceanera with parents also preparing lavish parties, fantastic food, sophisticated decorations, special performances and gifts to the debutante. The Quinceanera tradition also celebrates the young girl’s journey from childhood to maturity.

Those who attended Reanna Kayla’s debut came from as far as Hawaii, California, South Carolina, and Florida. Relatives from Virginia were not able to attend due to compelling reasons, but they sent their voice clips of advice and congratulations which were played during the video presentation while all attendees were having their dinner.

To Reanna Kayla, happy 18th Birthday and I hope you will succeed in college, as you envision to be, and become a celebrated doctor. Your dad was telling me your personality is very outgoing and full of optimism, so you will surely make a successful physician someday.

We are praying that you are guided by our Almighty in finding your way to a righteous path and protect you against imperfections that may hinder your success and happiness. Good luck!

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at

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