- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A quinceanera — the Latin American coming-of-age celebration — is a milestone for any 15-year-old girl, but Neriz del Carmen Amaya Mejia’s recent ceremony held special import for her and her family.

“She was never supposed to live beyond the age of 10,” says Neriz’s mother, Isabel Amaya Mejia.

Neriz’s brain was damaged because of a lack of oxygen during surgery when she was 3 months old. Wheelchair-bound, she has cerebral palsy and has never spoken a word or taken a step on her own.

Her mother, who migrated from El Salvador 20 years ago, labors full time to care for Neriz. Her father, Benjamin, works at a restaurant as a dish washer.

But faith and family enabled Neriz’s parents to celebrate her quinceanera Mass at Our Lady, Queen of the Americas Roman Catholic church in Dupont Circle on Saturday.

“We never would have been able to afford this celebration if it was not for my family — and God,” Mrs. Amaya Mejia says.

Relatives, godparents and volunteers provided the customary trappings of the quinceanera court — the dresses and tuxedos, limousine, flowers, balloons, three-tier cake and Neriz’s tiara. Even the photographer, who responded to an e-mail plea, donated his services to the family.

Part religious service, part debutante fete, the quinceanera buzzed with activity as the court and the 150 guests moved from the church to the Wheaton-Glenmont Pool recreation center, where Neriz’s reception was held.

Neriz’s two sisters — Maritza, 17, and Iris, 23 — served punch, and a disc jockey interrupted the salsa music to direct the guests to assemble on the dance floor.

During a specially choreographed dance by the quinceanera court, modified so that Neriz sat in the middle of a circle of twirling children, guests tossed roses toward the center.

One landed on her lap and others surrounded her like a veil. And for a moment, Neriz was the queen of roses — and an unmistakable smile spread over her face.

Allison Shelley

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