Words convey meaning and history. Interlocutors use context to further understand the intended message delivered and received. The word quinceañera in the anglophone context then refers to the big birthday party thrown for Latinas when they turn 15. In the Hispanophone context, the word can represent the party, itself or the birthday girl, herself. Thus, you can have a quinceañera, while also being a quinceañera.
As much attention as this once in a lifetime gala gets, it is common across many cultures for adolescent girls to go through their rite of passage. Jewish girls have a Bat Mitzvah at 13. All over the US, families throw Sweet Sixteen parties, as well as cotillions or debutante balls at varying ages. Filipinas turning 18 have their Debut.
The age and religious affiliation may change, but the idea remains the same. Each ceremony is intended as a coming of age celebration for young women. It can be argued, however, that historically these ceremonies were nothing more than ways to let the men of the community know who was available for courtship, marriage, and motherhood. So why continue this tradition, when there has seemingly been so much progress in female empowerment?
Quinceañeras are seen as a fundamental way to maintain cultural ties to one’s Latin American heritage. Latino diasporic communities throughout the US, Spain and even Australia host these increasingly lavish parties. It is important to note, however, that a quinceañera also has a religious component to it. As a result of colonialism, Catholicism is the overwhelming faith associated with Latin America, but other Christian denominations have made headway in the community as well.
The new Netflix series On My Block showcased a last-minute effort to throw Olivia the Quince she and her mom had always dreamed of, despite being separated from her parents. Ruby, her faithful admirer, explains to his friends why Olivia needed to have a Quince precisely so that she could fulfill that dream in spite of the situation in which she found herself.
While the narrative of the Quinceañera in the US has remained primarily Mexican, Aleyso Bridger reminds us of varying traditions throughout Latin America in her book, Tu quinceañera. There are subtle differences, however, what is clear is that the traditions are rooted in religious heterosexual patriarchy.
Anatomy of a Quince
The Royal Court is comprised of the Quinceañera, herself, her chambelán (escort for the duration of the quinceañera) and six other couples. They enter the church before the quinceañera. They perform the baile sorpresa (surprise dance) with her. Much like a bridal party, they will also sit with the quinceañera and her chambelán at a designated table at the reception.
The shoe exchange, which takes place during the reception, is when the father or other male guardian takes the quinceañera’s flats and puts on her high heels, a traditional symbol marking her move from childhood into womanhood.
Other traditions, of the religious variety, exist, such as a mass with communion and a bouquet of flowers given to the patron Virgen of choice.
In recent years, the idea of quinceañeras has been used as expressions of political protest, as seen in Austin last year, after Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 4, also known as the show-me-your-papers-law. Fifteen young ladies held a protest quinceañera in front of the Texas state capitol to let lawmakers know where they stood. While the young protestors used the quinceañera fashion to drive home their point, other quinceañeras are focusing more on their roots, using Azteca, Mariachi and Día de los Muertos themes, for themselves and their Corte de honor (lit. Court of Honor).
A trend so recent that it’s practically impossible to find much information is that of Quinceañeros. No, it’s not a typo. It seems some Latino teens want to experience what their female counterparts get to experience. A Google search may prove nearly futile, but never fear for YouTube is always here. Look up “XV para hombres,” and you’ll find different videos of the Baile Sorpresa. Perusing the comments to these videos, though, the homophobia and derogatory remarks stand out. The disgust at the perceived lack of manliness abounds. To counterbalance that negativity, there are many more who fully support these young men’s choice to have a Quince of their own and vocalize it.
Quinceañera Expos have been the 21st Century answer for families and vendors alike to cover all the bases for the birthday person’s special day. Future Quinceañera Expos will surely continue to grow as more themes gain popularity. The question is, will they grow with the trends or will they be trendsetters? After all, joint Bridal and Quinceañera Expos already exist. Families of all socio-economic levels will and do spend upwards of $10,000 on this occasion. Their desire to create lifelong memories for the apple of their eyes will surely have them searching high and low to ensure their teen’s dreams come true.
For those who want less fuss, but still want a celebration, a multitude of companies now offer cruceros de quinceañera (quinceañera cruises). Armed with their quince squad, they provide all the support you need. No need to worry about the venue, parking, catering and more. Everything is done for you, all you do is show up, suit up and let the magic happen.
What will the next evolution of quinceañeras be? Any guesses?