Immigration detention made her quinceañera impossible, then her church stepped up

Regardless of how things turn out when people go to immigration jail, their absence can still make things difficult for the families they leave behind.

Kim Ramos sits in a chair adorned with lace before her quinceañera ceremony began. Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos sits in a chair adorned with lace before her quinceañera ceremony began. Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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On the day she turned 15, Kim Ramos sat still, trying not to giggle, as a member of her church layered makeup on her face. She’d soon be ready for her quinceañera, complete with long fake lashes, lipstick, a red tulle dress and a bedazzled crown.

A quinceañera is the traditional celebration of a girl’s transformation into a woman for southern Mexican and Central American cultures. It’s an extremely important moment for some families. For Ramos, it almost didn’t happen.

Last year, her mother’s husband, Fernando Piedra, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and imprisoned after 18 years living in the U.S. He spent eight months in Aurora’s privately run immigration prison. The government released Piedra in June and allowed him to stay in the country, he told Denverite. While he’s glad to be back with his family, the time he was absent took a toll on his wife and three children. His earning power and his ability to help take care of the family was gone, and things like Ramos’ party became out of reach.

It’s not an unusual result of detention. People who enter ICE custody, even if they are released without facing a deportation order, can lose their homes and businesses while they’re gone.

Ramos’ quinceañera was almost a casualty of her stepfather’s detention, but her church stepped in to make sure the day was special.

Kim Ramos sits patiently as her friends prepare her for her quinceañera ceremony at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos sits patiently as her friends prepare her for the ceremony. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos' quinceañera at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The makeup room filled with people as Kim was dolled up. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“We started planning it two weeks ago. Usually they start planning a year in advance,” said Joanna Barbaran, whose father is the pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana De Valverde in Athmar Park. “It didn’t even seem like it was an option for them until we were like, yeah, let’s do it.”

Members of the congregation took Ramos to the mall to buy her the dress. They cooked beef, pork and beans in the church’s kitchen. They supplied an elaborate two-tiered cake, a chocolate fountain, macaroons and candy. A few assembled onstage to sing as the religious part of the ceremony took place in the sanctuary. They watched as Ramos entered and was led to a chair decorated with fabric and a red bow. She took communion and as Barbaran’s father, Rafael Ballares, anointed her with holy water.

Maria Gueta and Cleme Rodriguez work in Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church's kitchen in preparation for Kim Ramos' quinceañera party, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Maria Gueta and Cleme Rodriguez work in Iglesia Presbiteriana De Valverde's kitchen, getting ready for a room full of hungry guests. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos' mother, Erika Piedra Avendaño (left), and a member of her church, Delfina Solano, inspect Ramos' makeup before her quinceañera ceremony at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos' mother, Erika Piedra Avendaño (left), and a member of her church, Delfina Solano, inspect Ramos' makeup before she puts on her dress. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos’ mother, Erika Piedra Avendaño, said she felt fortunate that the community came together.

“Here at church we are considered a family,” she told Denverite in Spanish. “I saw how everyone has Christ in their hearts.”

Barbaran said this kind of support is not out of the norm at her family’s church. They help out with quinceañeras and weddings when it’s needed. Many in Iglesia Presbiteriana’s congregation are immigrants who live on the city’s west side, and she said a lot of people struggle to make ends meet. The church needs extra help from the governing Presbyterian body to continue operating since they can’t rely on donations from their members. It’s a combination of issues related to legal status and the rising cost of living, but she said people stick together to make sure nobody is left wanting.

“When her husband was in jail, we were all helping take her to the grocery store and helping do the basic things,” Barbaran said. “If you don’t have the person that helps you with that, then it’s very very hard living in Denver.”

David Argueta (left) and Jared Pallares pose for a portrait before Kim Ramos' quinceañera at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

David Argueta (left) and Jared Pallares pose for a portrait before Ramos' ceremony. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos walks to a side door at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church to make a grand entrance for her  quinceañera, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos walks to a side door at Iglesia Presbiteriana De Valverde to make a grand entrance. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos waits in a side room before a grand entrance for her quinceañera ceremony at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos waits in a side room before entering. She said she was a little nervous. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

In between applications of lip gloss, Ramos said a quinceañera wasn’t that big a deal to her. Though she added she was nervous and couldn’t quite say why.

“Before, I didn’t want it,” she said. “It was a waste of money.”

She said she thinks a lot about how much things cost.

Her friend from school, Sandra Escobedo, said she was planning to pass on her quinceañera. She knows other girls who feel that way, too. Though, after attending Ramos’ on Saturday night, she might change her mind.

After the ceremony, the food and cake-cutting, Ramos conceded: she would have felt like she missed something big had the community not come together to make it all possible.

Kim Ramos makes an entrace for her quinceañera ceremony at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos appears in the back of the sanctuary. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos sits in a chair adorned with lace as Pastor Rafael Ballares addresses the crowd in Spanish. Ramos' quinceañera at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos sits in a decorated chair as the service begins. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos sits in a chair adorned with lace as Pastor Rafael Ballares addresses the crowd in Spanish. Ramos' quinceañera at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

This small church is mostly attended by immigrants living on the city's west side. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Pastor Rafael Ballares gives a sermon in Spanish during Kim Ramos' quinceañera ceremony at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Pastor Rafael Ballares gives a sermon in Spanish as Ramos sits in the front of the room. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Pastor Rafael Ballares anoints Kim Ramos during her quinceañera ceremony at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Pastor Ballares anoints Ramos after his sermon. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos' quinceañera at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Juli Barbaran bows her head a the sanctuary is united in a moment of prayer. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos poses for a photo with her mother after her quinceañera ceremony at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos poses for a photo with her mother after the ceremony. She was ushered out the door for a dramatic exit. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos recieves quinceañera guests behind the dessert table in the basement of Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos recieves guests behind the dessert table in the basement of Iglesia Presbiteriana De Valverde. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kids dig into candy and chocolate before Kim Ramos' fancy quinceañera cake was cut. Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kids dig into candy and chocolate before Ramos' fancy cake was cut. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos sister, Melanie, eyes a plate of candy during Ramos' quinceañera. Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos' sister, Melanie, eyes a plate of candy during the party. She was permitted to eat as much as she wanted, and she did. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos jokes with Sandra Escobedo, her friend and classmate, as David Argueta and Jared Pallares text memes to each other across the table. Ramos' quinceañera at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos jokes with Sandra Escobedo, her friend and classmate, as David Argueta and Jared Pallares text memes to each other across the table. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Fernando Piedra embraces his son, Ian, during the quinceañera of his step-daughter, Kim Ramos. Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Fernando Piedra embraces his son, Ian, during Ramos' party (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos' quinceañera party in the basement at Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Ramos' family eats at a table across from her special seat in the church basement. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kim Ramos prepares to cut her cake during her quinceañera celebration in the basement of Ministerio Hispano Presbyterian Church, Dec 14, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Someone lights a candle as Ramos prepares to cut her cake. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

 

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