Filipino Debuts

“My experience with the debut was centered around presenting me to the world as a woman.  I know there’s stuff from before about, like… presenting women to the men of the community as of age or ready to be, like, married off.  But when Filipina girls turn 18, the community typically throws them a huge party called a debut (day-boo) and it’s just like the big birthday where everyone now considers them an adult.  For mine, my parents picked 9 aunts and 9 uncles to be my godparents for the party… well some of them were my actual godparents from baptism, but the others were people I’ve gotten close to as I’ve grown up.  Everyone gave me a speech, and the men danced with me.  I think at my mom’s debut though, they actually had her dance with, like… dudes her age as like a courtship thing.  That would be really weird and creepy now and, ugh, there’s no way I would ever do that.  But I guess that’s what was normal then.  And I mean, that’s also what the debut was for in its origins, where it was the sign that men could finally begin courting the woman for marriage.”

Background: The informant is a 20 year-old who had her own debut in 2019.  She was born and raised in the United States and is the daughter of Filipino immigrants.  She has never been to the Philippines, but was raised with her parents’ values.

Context: The piece was shared to me over Facebook Messenger video chat.

It is interesting how customs change in different countries and timelines.  Debuts in the Philippines in earlier decades served a more practical purpose, to present women to the bachelors of the community and to officially dub her as available.  This party also represents the liminal space between being a child and a woman with adult responsibilities, as this party also occurs around the same time where the celebrant goes to college.  Many Filipino-Americans also tend to leave home around this time, while those who have been raised in the Philippines tend to stay in their parents’ homes until they are married and have a new family to preside over.  Such customs around marriage do not exist as prevalently for those who were raised in the United States, as we place less of an emphasis around only leaving our parents’ household to raise one of our own.