When Bianca Galindo married Robert Gilliam in May in Fort Worth, Texas, her two Mexican-American grandmothers stood on the altar beside the couple and draped a delicate beaded lasso made by a family friend over their shoulders, symbolically uniting them.
“My paternal grandmother told me, probably about a year ago, that she wanted to get a lasso for our ceremony, and I had no clue what it was,” says the newlywed, who’s now Bianca Gilliam. “Being able to incorporate my grandmothers into the wedding ceremony was really special.”
The lasso is just one of several time-honored customs — such as arras (gold coins), capias (wedding favors) and a money dance — that Latina brides often include in their weddings, whether they’re longstanding family traditions or bits of their heritage they only recently learned about.
“The tradition was new to me, and when I began researching it, I discovered that I wish I had known about it before because this is a part of my culture,” Gilliam says. “I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and most of my friends were white … my parents never really let me forget who I was, where I came from, but there are just little aspects that I didn’t grasp onto until I was much older, the lasso being one of them.” She also served Tex-Mex food and hired a mariachi band to play during her reception.
Born near the Mexico border in West Loco, Texas, Felicia Medina Parker grew up attending weddings that included meaningful rituals such as the lasso, and she was excited to incorporate them into her own 2015 wedding.
Parker and her husband, TJ, who converted to Catholicism before they married, now live in New York but held their nuptial Mass at Mission Espada in San Antonio.
She describes having padrinos, or godparents, participate in specific sacraments including her baptism, first communion and confirmation, as well as her quinceañera. Padrinos were also an important part of her wedding ceremony, with godparents bearing gifts of bread and wine, placing the lasso over the bride and groom and presenting the arras. These padrinos were then known as compadres and are viewed as marriage guides or mentors.
Parker’s baptismal godparents were also her godparents for the lasso, and they ordered a beautiful lasso for her wedding. “It’s like a symbol of us being tied together from this moment on as we declare our vows before Christ,” she says.
Her godparents of the arras “made it really special by sourcing these 18th-century Mexican gold coins,” she says. They were presented during the ceremony. The priest told her husband to place the coins in her hands and then she placed them in his, signifying that they trust each other to provide for their family. In addition, she presented roses to the Virgin Mary during the ceremony while a friend sang Ave Maria.
At the reception, Parker incorporated more Latino touches such as mariachis, pan de polvo (special cookies surrounding the cake) and the money dance, where “the community comes together and dances with the new bride and groom and sends them off with a little honeymoon money,” she explains. “It gives them the chance to have a dance with the bride or groom and just share a few words, and it’s also a chance to just see everyone eye-to-eye … whoever wants to get in line and you leave a dollar, $20, $100 or whatever.”
Parker describes her husband as “totally white from Ohio,” but when it came to bringing her culture into their ceremony, “he just embraced it and went along with it all and loved it,” she says.
There are more wedding traditions that Parker grew up with, such as using a special Bible for the Mass or lighting a candle together, but she used the ones that resonated the most with her. “You can choose as a bride or a groom how deep you want to go into the traditions,” she says.
Frances Evans, who’s from Puerto Rico, knew there was one thing she wanted when she planned her small-town South Carolina wedding 10 years ago: capias, the small souvenir pins decorated with ribbons that include the newlyweds’ names and wedding date. Evans’ capias were decorated with small dolls. “Both the dolls’ dress(es) (a small replica of my own wedding dress) and the capias were truly special and a labor of love,” she says. “They were a gift from my mother because she made the capias and sewed both wedding dresses (the dolls’ and mine). A few days before our wedding she flew in (from Puerto Rico) with the capias and the wedding dress.”
“I wanted to bring traditions from my culture to our bicultural wedding,” she says. “On each table I had a little note explaining to our non-Puerto Rican guests what they represented.”
Valerie Russo Evans was born in New York City and “raised as a Latina” by her Puerto Rican mother and Sicilian father. She married a Jewish man and, like Frances Evans, wanted to incorporate both their cultures into their 2014 wedding. While including Jewish traditions like the chuppah and breaking the glass, she walked down the aisle to Ave Maria, and her bridal party entered the reception to Puerto Rican danzas.
Her dress also held meaning, with a layer of lace and intricate beading and a mantilla-type veil in a nod to Puerto Rico’s lacemaking history. “We made our wedding ceremony our own and true to our cultures,” Russo Evans says. “During the reception, we danced the hora, salsa and more and ate all the foods we love from paella to prime rib and sushi. It was an amazing day, and I am glad we got to do it our way. There was meaning and symbolism in almost every aspect of the wedding.”
These special wedding customs are a way to make the union significant for the couple, their families and guests. “It’s embedded in our hearts, these traditions, and it’s what makes the service even more romantic and kind of special,” Parker says. Gilliam agrees. “I can’t wait to share my heritage when I do start having a family,” she says.
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