Fifteens, Drama Queens and Sweet Sixteens

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In the Latino culture, many girls celebrate their coming of age through a significant ceremony called a quinceañera. Usually this occasion is marked by a girl turning fifteen years of age, hence the phrase “quince.” As many generations of Latin Americans become settled into the United States and become more “Americanized,” the tradition of having a quince is becoming more and more obscured. When American social images and Latino traditions collide they create a new image of the quince. Many girls take that collision and mold a new idea out of the popular tradition. Some girls elect to have a sweet sixteen, a trend made popular by the MTV show of the same name. Others just say no to the whole idea of a coming of age celebration, a thought that would make any abuelita cringe. As the generations build and traditions fade, the meaning of what it is to have a quince is often lost in translation.

Something Old, Something New
When traditions seem too old fashioned, many girls take the quince situation into their own hands. “It was traditional and untraditional,” remembers Jazmyne, an eighteen year old Latina. Jazmyne’s quince was modeled after an Arabian night’s theme, complete with rhinestones, and magic carpets. “It was really fun and I’ll remember it as long as I live,” Jazmyne smiles. “I decided to have a quinceañera because it was a tradition family,” explains Jazmyne, “most of my family had had one so I decided to have one too.” In mixing up new and old, Jazmyne wore a traditional white gown but had a court of all girls. “I decided to just have a small group of girls, half family and half friends,” Jazmyne says. Jazmyne added personal style by choreographing dances that she and her court performed as entertainment for guests. Because this was such an elaborate touch, everyone in her court, including Jazmyne, had to practice often. “It was hard to get everyone to show up to practice and cooperate,” laughs Jazmyne, “two of the even girls got into a fight at one of my practices!” Although Jazmyne feels that her quince was not exactly like the traditional celebration, she feels that she represented her cultural identity and appealed to main stream America accurately. “A quince is just a fifteenth birthday party and it doesn’t matter how you do it,” says Jazmyne, “as long as you share it with the ones you care for.” Jazmyne hopes that the tradition of having a quinceañera continues grow in future generations of her family. But as generations grow, will they eventually lose this coveted tradition? Or will the tradition become so far stretched that it will no longer appear to be a quince anymore?

Breaking Tradition
Even when the quinceañera tradition runs rampant in a girl’s family, some decide to skip out on the whole thing. “Everyone had one, my friends, my cousins, and even my older sister,” says sixteen year old Latina Andrea. When Andrea turned fourteen, her family already had plans to throw her a quince celebration. “My family was excited about throwing me a party!” Andrea remembers. Andrea blames everyone’s excitement on her older sister’s celebration. “She had a very fun quinceañera, and everyone was asking me when I would have mine,” says Andrea, “I had a lot of fun but I didn’t want to have a traditional ceremony with the white dress and the doll.” Andrea often watched the show My Super Sweet Sixteen, and liked some of the ideas that they had on the show. “I liked how they were not so traditional, how you could show your individuality and be different,” Andrea explains. Andrea’s mom wasn’t sure that her daughter was serious about having a quince or sweet sixteen, so she put off planning. “She [my mom] was so used to planning a quince, because of my sister, that she would have probably made my sweet sixteen party into a quinceañera,” Andrea says. During this planning time, Andrea ended up moving to another city and planning for a party was put on hold. “I just was happy that I didn’t have to worry about this big thing that I wasn’t even sure about,” Andrea reveals, “and by the time I turned fifteen, I was happy just to have a small birthday party at my house.” Although Andrea never had a quinceañera or sweet sixteen, she is fine with her choice and can’t wait for the next quinceañera or sweet sixteen celebrations in her family. When Andrea wanted to find a middle ground, her ideas went against the traditional grain. It seems as if younger generations are beginning to think differently about the quince traditions. Even if girls have some sort of coming of age celebration, it is unclear if they will incorporate older traditional symbolism into their celebration.

My Big Fat Sweet Sixteen
12 year old Latina Alex plans to have a fairytale like coming of age celebration.”I want a sweet sixteen because I want to different,” Alex says, “almost all the women in my family had a quinceañera.” Alex has big plans for her sweet sixteen and hopes to make it a celebration no one will forget. Although she is only twelve, Alex can already picture and pick out the specific look for her day. “Hot pink, lime green, orange and turquoise are the colors that I want to use in my theme” describes Alex. Because she is having a sweet sixteen, Alex elects not to have a court or chambelan. “I want it all to be about me,” Alex smirks, “every girl has a chance to be a princess, and have a special day of her own.” Alex has high hopes for the future as she becomes a young lady and her family introduces her to society. “I like the idea of a quince, but it’s just not for me,” Alex says.

When traditions fade and new ideas collide, it is certain that younger generations will draw out their interpretations about coming of age. Although it may seem as if the quinceañera is slipping out of style, all hope is not lost. As many new immigrants bring traditional ideals into the “melting pot” that is America, these sacred traditions will not fade away easily. When coming of age, many Latinas are faced with the excitement and wonder of quinceañera and sweet sixteen traditions. Now more than ever, girls are discovering new trends, breaking tradition, going all out and finding their individuality within these meaningful ceremonies. Whether you are a fifteen, sixteen or even a drama queen, it doesn’t matter how you step into your future, as long as you don’t forget your past.

January 2009

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