EL PASO— Looking at herself in the bathroom mirror, Valerie Madrid places a red flower in her hair, adding just enough flare to her outfit that includes a black top, blue jeans and a pair of black high-heel shoes chosen by her aunts.
Tired after an eight-hour drive from her home in San Antonio to El Paso, Valerie was able to surprise her mother with an unexpected visit this year to attend her family’s annual Mother-Daughter gathering.
The women of the Quesada family started the tradition 12 years ago and it is still going strong. The Mother-Daughter gathering, held every year in March, began with the first generation of Quesada women in 2003. Seven sisters, Maria Grijalva, Irene Casillas, Ana Estala, Emilia Silva, Juanita Morales, Dolores Urbina, Eva Dominguez, and one sister-in-law, Yolanda Quesada, met together at a local restaurant, The Chelsea Street Pub.
“We started this gathering because we have such a nice relationship; we love each other and we just thought it would be a great idea,” said Maria Grijalva, the eldest Quesada sister. Over a lunch of chicken wings and cocktail drinks on that day more than a decade ago, a family tradition was born – one special day each year of bonding, inspiration and celebration that would include current and future generations of family women.
The most recent Mother-Daughter Quesada family celebration was held March 7th at Frances Perches home, daughter of Juana Morales, the fourth oldest Quesada sister. More than 25 women attended, among them cousins and aunts from places like San Antonio and Van Horn. The women ranged in age from 18 to their early 70s .
During the reunion, the Quesada women caught up on gossip and new announcements, relatives preparing for graduation in spring, new jobs and who is expecting babies.
This year’s dinner menu was Asian inspired, chopped sesame salad, fried chicken and not to forget homemade salsa. They held dance contests to see who could twerk the best and competed in team relay races to see who could roll the best tortilla. Every year the activities change, the venues move around town and the themes are never the same. Each sister and her daughters wear matching color-coordinated outfits.
Frances Perches, a substitue teacher, hosted this year’s gathering in her home on the west side of El Paso.
“This year’s theme was memories because it’s something we always look back to …Not only do we look back on them but we’re going to create new memories here today that we’re going to cherish.” Frances, along with her daughter and a niece, created a picture frame for each of the sisters. Each frame was decorated with pictures of previous Mother-Daughter gatherings to remember the great times they have had.
There are a few rules that govern these reunions. The women who attend must be part of the family through blood or by marriage. Because some of the conversations are rated R, only women older than 18 years of age can attend.
Robyn Estala, 31, financial foundation specialist for USAA, has a daughter who isn’t old enough to attend. “My 11-year-old asks why she can’t come but… I tell her she has to be a certain age because there’s alcohol and the things that we talk about are on more of a mature level,” Estala said.
Valerie Madrid, 31, the granddaughter of the late Irene Casillas the second oldest Quesada sister, is only one of the 18 granddaughters, not counting great granddaughters. Valerie says she loves to attend because her grandmother’s sisters remind her so much of her grandmother.
“Sometimes in life things happen to you, good, bad, embarrassing, scary and even uneasy,” said Madrid. “But it’s good to know that you are not alone and that you are not the only one that has had to go through something like that.”
Although it’s still to early to determine where next year’s gathering will be, Emilia Silva, 66, a retired child care provider who lives in San Antonio, announced at this year’s gathering that her son and his family have decided to make the move from El Paso to San Antonio.
With excitement of having her son living nearby, Silva suggested that next year’s gathering be held in San Antonio, Texas. If everyone agrees, it will be the first time the gathering is not in their hometown of El Paso.
The Quesada women are proud of the bonds that they nurture through their annual reunions. No matter how far away they may live, they say, it keeps alive their sense of belonging to a family.
Ana Estala, 70, a retired daycare provider and the third oldest Quesada sister, said: “We laugh, we cry, we party, we drink…whether you’re going through a good time or a bad time, it’s just family.”