This Couple Included Filipino and Mizo Traditions in Their Wedding at The Winslow in Baltimore
Ahead of their wedding, the couple took engagement portraits in traditional Filipino attire to honor their heritage. “JJ’s top is called a Barong Tagalog made out of pineapple fabric, which is the national dress for Filipino men. The top I wore is called Kawrchung and the skirt is called Puanchei, which wraps around the waist. They are both hand woven," explains Lian. "Each tribe has its own different motifs and designs to help identify the wearer’s tribe. Puanchei is the most colorful Mizo textile, traditionally worn on festive occasions by the chief’s family. This is worn only for celebrations and by the bride on her wedding. The green dress that I wore is a design my friend Hannah Khiangte and I came up with, which incorporate handwoven Mizo Puan into western evening dress. The hat I wore is called a Chawilukhum. The original is made out of bamboo, Porcupine's quills attached with feathers of Parrot and job's tear beads threaded with beetles' wings. Parrots and porcupines are protected now and it’s very difficult to find originals. Mine is one of very few that still exists. The original Chawilukhum will have red tassels whereas mine are multicolor because it was custom made by my grandmother as a family heirloom. It was mainly worn on special occasions while performing a traditional folk dance. Traditionally it was worn only by the Royal or very wealthy people,” said Lian.
Although the couple founds ways to meaningfully honor their heritage throughout the wedding, Lian's parents were unfortunately not a part of her big day. “I moved to the States in 2009, my mom passed away in 2007, and not long after that my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer," explains Lian. "Since most of my maternal side’s been living in the States, my dad forced me to move here with my siblings; hoping we would have a better future and opportunities. JJ and his family migrated to the US in April of 2004. His dad took a chance to start a new life in America and left the Philippines. He was away from them for 5 years during which he financially supported them. Eventually, he saved up enough to bring JJ and the whole family here and made their American Dreams become a reality,” said Lian of her husband's journey to the United States, where he eventually met Lian. “Planning our wedding without my parents was really difficult and I knew doing a slow dance with my brother would make me uncontrollably emotional. To avoid my ugly crying face we decided to dance to a fun song. I’m really proud he actually danced and helped me with the choreography. The crowd went wild!” Not only did Lian and her brother share a fun dance during the wedding, JJ surprised Lian with a dance performance as well. “The de Leon family is known to perform dances on big family parties so JJ felt it’s only right to do a performance for his bride. He wanted to make it a surprise, thankfully all his brothers and cousins were so excited for it. He secretly practiced with them by making an excuse that he needed to practice the mother-son dance. He choreographed the dance from YouTube and added his own twist. He thought it would be funny to add a Filipino TikTok dance challenge into the performance so he added the #kikaychallenge to make the party bumping.”
Initially, Lian and JJ planned to tie the knot in May, on the same day as JJ's parent's 30th anniversary. However, once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they were forced to move their date and cut their guest list in half. One silver lining of the shift was that the couple ended up saying "I do" on Halloween. "Although we didn’t get married under spring air, sharing the same anniversary date with my in-laws, we feel really lucky to have gotten married on Halloween, it’s really cool," says Lian.
Although Lian and JJ picked a refined, minimal aesthetic for their wedding at The Winslow in Baltimore, Maryland, they still found ways to personalize the entire celebration and fill it with meaningful cultural elements. "I picked the color white to represent unity and to rebel against tradition. Pink blush to symbolize femininity because my whole life I have been criticized for not being feminine enough and told that I failed cultural expectations. Lastly, greenery for that organic look. We were going for a timeless look," explains Lian of the couple's stunning, and incredibly meaningful, color palette. One especially meaningful detail the duo included was the teacups given as escort cards to attendees. "The teacup we used for the seating arrangements is my favorite detail from the wedding because the unique print belongs to Mizoram, we call it YMA nô , which translates to Young Mizo Association Cup," explains Lian. "It’s a community teacup that is used to give out tea in community events. This might be the most unrecognized item that represents the Mizo culture." In addition to the inclusion of mugs honoring Mizoram, the couple intentionally threaded bamboo details throughout the wedding as a way to celebrate the Philippines. "We were thinking really hard of something that would represent both of our cultures and realized that Bamboo plays a significant role in both Mizoram's and the Philippines’s economies, it is widely used for construction, handicrafts manufacture, musical instruments, utensils and even for food. We got lucky JJ’s aunt was able to send us baskets to give away as a take-home gift from the Philippines." Then, to cap off the night, guests were served Pandan cake since, "in India, weddings are incomplete without serving varieties of sweets, for our wedding we served Steamed Pandan cake to show we share happiness with all our guests."