Quinceañeras: A Cultural Tradition transforms into a Celebration of Uniqueness. [INSIGHT]

By Insight Tr3s

This month, Tr3s wraps up the 8th season of the hit show “Quiero Mis Quinces”, which targets bilingual/bicultural Latinos. The unforgettable quinceañera party of New Jersey identical twins Saned and Camille, featuring risqué dance performances ranging from burlesque to hip-hop, as well as sexy costumes, is showcasing one of the many experiences for Latinas celebrating their fifteenth milestone. In some cases however, the tradition is no longer limited to young women: new trends show a growing number of boys wanting to have their own quinceañero parties, as well.

Rooted in Azteca, Mayan, and Spanish cultures, the quinceañera has traditionally been a coming-of-age party where a young lady turning fifteen is introduced to society as eligible for marriage. In Mexico and in heavily Mexican parts of the U.S., a church service called la misa de acción (thanksgiving mass) marks the beginning of the celebration. In these masses, the young lady wears a white ball gown to symbolize her purity, receives a special bible and rosary beads, and gives a flower bouquet to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The rituals within the ceremony mark the young lady’s transition to womanhood and the responsibilities that will come to her in life. In other countries and areas of the U.S., a simpler prayer service at church kicks off the celebration – though in many cases, church plays no role in the celebration.

The parties are celebrated in large reception halls. The young women have at least one special dress, usually in a bright color — and in some cases, several costume changes. For the more traditional, this is the first time a young women wears makeup and high heels. At some celebrations, she wears flat shoes and her father replaces them with high heels. A father-daughter dance – usually a waltz — is another special moment that celebrates her growing independence.

A surprise dance performance is typically the reception’s highlight. The quinceañera has a “court” of damas y chambelanes (similar to bridesmaids and groomsmen at an American wedding) ranging from six to sixteen couples, including a chambelan de honor who serves as her escort and dance partner for the evening. Together, the group performs at least one elaborate routine that they have practiced with a professional choreographer for months. Talented quinceañeras sometimes do an act of their own in addition to the festivities.

In the U.S. today, most parties have a theme – and there can be intense competition to have the most creatively executed idea. Where a few years ago, a princess theme might have been seen as unique, today quinceañeras are customizing the parties based on who they are. For example, a quinceañera who is an aerialist and practices flips in the air might center her party on that concept. There is a trend toward originality, as quinceañera increasingly picks and chooses which elements of the traditional celebration they want to keep and what new ideas they can incorporate.

All of this comes with a hefty price tag for the parents, averaging $15,000 to $20,000. Similar to American weddings, the final cost is often double the family’s original budget. Though there was a slowdown as families pinched pennies because of the recession, quinceañera vendors experienced another upswing starting in 2011. Even parents who are hard-pressed for money make sacrifices so their fifteen year old children can have this experience because they only celebrate this milestone once. In some cases, a mother didn’t have a quincenanera of her own and doesn’t want her child to miss out. For many parents, the party is seen as a duty much like providing food and shelter.

Today, the majority of Hispanic teens were born in the U.S., and their complex cultural backgrounds are evolving the quinceañera tradition. Where in the past, these celebrations conformed to a template that held great meaning for people, today’s young Latinas (and Latinos) are reinventing this rite of passage: they’re keeping the traditions that make sense to them and making the rest something uniquely their own.

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