After reading Dr. Karen Daválos piece “La Quinceañera: Making Gender and Ethnic Identities,” I began researching the history and purpose of Quinceañeras because it is a ceremony widely celebrated in Latino culture. My intention was not to find reasons to critique it but to learn more about the ceremony and to ultimately form my own opinion about it.
Turning fifteen is a monumental time in a young Latina’s life and most dream about their Quinceañera from a very early age. La Quinceañera is often compared to the Sweet Sixteen in American culture because both are cultural celebrations and important times in a young woman’s life but there are several differences that are important to be mentioned. La Quinceañera emphasizes more religious customs, family values, and social responsibility. It unifies several elements and values of Latino culture into one huge celebration. Traditionally la Quinceañera is associated with Mexican/ Mexican American culture because it has been traced back to the Aztecs. Young men were to become warriors and young women had to fulfill their role and duties attached to womanhood in society. Over time several countries in Latin America adopted the ceremony, also known as a woman’s rite of passage. The concept of a rite of passage reminded me of the Navajo’s “Kinaalda,” a four day celebration of a girl’s first menstrual period, which includes symbolic dances, cleansing rituals, physical activities and a special cake called “alkaan.” To the Navajo it symbolizes a physical and spiritual bond to Mother Nature and the importance of women in their culture. It is a very beautiful celebration that I find particularly interesting because men always partake in all the activities since women are highly valued in their tribes.
La Quinceañera is divided into two main parts, the religious mass and the reception/party. Many people play a role in the ceremony starting with a head chamberlain who usually ends up being the young woman’s boyfriend or love interest, the other chamberlains (chambelanes), maids of honor (damas), her godparents (padrino/a), and her parents. Families that choose to stay as true to the ceremony as possible understand the role faith plays throughout it all. For that reason she must attend classes taught at her parish which are meant to help guide her into the right path and to teach her what it means to be a responsible adult. She is no longer a child, which should be reflected through her actions. Therefore, at the mass she takes a moment to thank the Lord for all her blessings and to make a commitment to always live a righteous path, but recently families are focusing more on the festivities and less on the faith component. Girls can’t wait to plan the party, practice with las damas the dance routine performed at the reception and to mingle with the boys. It leads to the meaning and purpose of la Quinceañera to be diluted through all the party planning.
Many problems and critiques have emerged about the tradition. Dr. Daválos examines in her essay the origin of the so-called “tradition” and the gendered, racial, sexual and religious implications it carries. Also she incorporates multiple views from people and questions whether its origin is really traced back to the Aztecs or is it a European assimilation process. Others might view it as more of a gendered tradition that places pressure on young women to fit into their expected womanly and motherly role in society. The pressure to conform is greatly seen among Chicana women and their works in Chicana Feminst Thought. Some articles that echo those sentiments are “Chicana Message” and “La Chicana y ‘El Movimiento.’” Women’s sexuality has always and still is an issue highly debated. A Quinceañera could be publicly announcing how the young woman is reached an age of sexual maturity hence is ready to marry. For example Chicana author Cherríe Moraga who has revealed that she’s a lesbian, has also said how at an early age she felt an internal conflict between her sexual identity and her family’s Catholic faith. Women who are not heterosexual might feel that it’s a ceremony that reinforces and pushes heteronormativity on those who are not.
It’s apparent that people have mixed feelings about Quinceañeras but I feel that the young woman and her family should decide together whether it should take place. By reflecting about the ceremony and having the choice to celebrate it or not also shows responsibility and maturity. Before learning more about Quinceañeras, I made the personal choice not to celebrate it. In my case I didn’t think it was necessary and the expenses were another factor that impacted my decision. I informed my parents I would rather invest the money towards my education, which I knew would come at a costly price. That was my choice and I still think it was the right choice for me. However the young women who do decide to have one have that right because for them and their family it holds a lot of significance. Lastly Quinceañeras can bring families together during a time where more families are spending time apart, values are changing and families are suffering from all types of hardships. Then from that perspective Quinceañeras can be a beautiful celebration of Latino culture.
- “Quinceanera!” New York Folklore Society. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.nyfolklore.org/pubs/voic28-3-4/onair.html>.
- “La quinceañera: A Celebration of Budding Womanhood.” La QuinceaÃÂ±era: A Celebration of Budding Womanhood : Mexico Living. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/3192-la-quinceañera-a-celebration-of-budding-womanhood>.