As I See It – Physical boundaries never a hindrance to celebrating debut


Observing strictly science and CDC protocols and guidelines, the 18th birthday/debut of Reanna Kayla Tesoro Estioko was a success with relatives and friends in attendance coming from as far as Hawaii, California, South California, and Florida.

Tradition and customary practices say this momentous event ushers one of the bonding moments for Filipinos, especially here in the United States which is a special day to gather relatives, friends and acquaintances together celebrating a young woman’s 18th birthday or debut: a traditional Filipino coming-to-age or age of maturity celebration.

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

On Sunday, September 19, 2021, my wife Delia, and I, with 5 of my 6 children, attended Reanna Kayla’s 18th birthday celebration at the Social Hall of Marywood Retreat Center in Jacksonville, Florida. The occasion was complete with hand-picked “members of her court” of 18 males (roses) and 18 females (candles). She is the daughter of John Edward “JoJo” Estioko and Alvi Tesoro Estioko, RN, residents of Jacksonville, Florida. 

Reanna Kayla’s debut served as a refresher for me in reminiscing one of the Filipino traditions’ coming-to-age celebration, since it has been a while that I haven’t attended a debut celebration due to the corona virus pandemic and even before that.

Reanna Kayla’s 18th birthday started with a short prayer invoking blessings upon the debutante and divine intercession in bringing families, relatives, friends together and sharing a glorious event that makes her what she is today.

Then a special Hawaiian dance was performed by the Estioko siblings, long members of a halau (Hawaiian dance group) in Santa Clara, California – May, Tweety, and Paul, with instant, unrehearsed special participation of Hawaiian-born Baby Ellie, the 18-month-old daughter of Tweety.

Part of the traditional practices, 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. Each delivered a short speech about their relationships with the debutante and special greetings (which somehow ended into a roasting session). That’s how intimate the celebration was!

Reanna Kayla, who wants to be a nurse (like her mom and her aunties) leading to a course in medicine, 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.

The distinguished members of the 18 roses entourage dancing with designated music are Karthick Kumar  Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind and Fire; Diego Pascual Chunky by Bruno Mars; Joaquin Marcelino Araw Gabi by Regine Velasquez; Fernando Roque Griffin Teach Me How to Dougie (clean version); Aurelio Quilantang Burning Up Fire  by bts; Dave Ofario Here Comes the Sun by Boyce Avenue; Conner Forman I’ll be There by Jackson; Jeremy Quilantang Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder; Marlo Quilantang Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder; Vergel Quilantang Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder; Steve Pagley Never a Word by Deep Purple; Jayson Estioko Speechlessby Kolhe Kai; Jonathan Rasay (proxy by Steve Law) Round and Around by Kolhe Kai; Paul Estioko Make His Pocket Hurt by Lili Kayla (clean version); Jed Ualat Sunshine Girl j Boog, by Peetah Morgan; Julian Pedro Nothing by Bruno Major; Elpidio Estioko Moon River (instrumental) by Jj Heller; and John Edward Estioko Forever Now by Michael Bubbie.

The members of the 18 roses were Amanda Nguyen; Joanna Le; June Smith; Jessica Tran; Sammy Diancian; Rowena Caperton (tita); Jaira Foreman; Carina Q; Ana Liza Tesoro, (tita); Analyn O. (tita); Annie Tesoro (tita); Angelita Pagley (ninang/tita); May Estioko, (tita); Rose Estioko Rasay (tita); Delia Estioko (Lola); Jianna Estioko (sister); and Alvi Tesoro Estioko (mother).

Reanna Kayla’s debut gave us a chance to remember those days when she was just a baby until she has grown to a full-blown lady as she is today. In fact, it also reminded us of our first born who likewise celebrated her debut in the Philippines.

Thirty-five years ago (not sure now), I was reminded of my eldest daughter Ma. Edelgrace “Gigi” Estioko celebrating her 18th birthday. We didn’t hold it in a hotel nor in a community center, but along the main street of our subdivision (Green Park Village), the Hon. Benito Soliven Ave. We closed the main road, and all vehicles were rerouted in cooperation, of course, with barangay officials with then Cainta City Council member, who is also a resident of the village, my kumpadre Hon. Rannie Matias (now living with his family in Las Vegas, Nevada); Subdivision Homeowners’ Association President, my kumpadre Honesto Raquipiso; and Kiwanis Club of Cainta Green Park President, my kumpadre the late Roy Chu. It was a village affair with all the ingredients of a debut celebration highlighting the cotillion dance, of course. My daughter is now living in Sydney, Australia with her husband Eric Malapitan, RN.

Just like Filipino debuts, Latino women reaching their 15th birthday celebrate theirQuinceanera with parents also preparing lavish food, coming up with sophisticated decorations, performing a special dance and offering special gifts to the debutante. Just like Filipino women coming to age on their debut, the Quinceanera tradition 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 prepared by sister Jianna Camille while all attendees were having their dinner. 

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

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

You can do it! Good luck!

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A veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist in the US. For feedbacks, comments email