Marking a rite of passage for young Latinas
“I did not want the white dress, the Mass, the dance with my father, or the court of friends that would accompany my entrance at the big party that would inevitably put my parents in debt.”
I never had a quinceañera.
I never wanted this rite that marks the passage to womanhood of many Latina and Latin American young women in their fifteenth year, that also provides occasion to give thanks to God for blessings and to present the young women to the community. Frequently celebrated in several countries in the Americas, including Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean, the quinceañera is often requested by Hispanic Catholics in U.S. dioceses.
I thoroughly rejected the quinceañera in my early teens, seeing myself as more on the American than Cuban side of the hyphen that categorizes my Cuban-American identity. I did not want the white dress, the Mass, the dance with my father, or the court of friends that would accompany my entrance at the big party that would inevitably put my parents in debt.
Twenty years later, I feel a twinge of regret at never being a quinceañera. Now that I sit comfortably on the hyphen and see the United States and Cuba as equal heritages I embrace, I regret much my youthful decision not to celebrate my own passage. The rite, I know now, would have united me with many of my Spanish-speaking sisters in the Americas.
Sustaining cultural identity
Today quinceañeras are often reduced to a big party, highlighted on shows like MTV’s “My Super Sweet Sixteen.” While the fiesta is a huge part of the celebration, quinceañeras include a religious ceremony, and in the United States are strong sustainers of cultural identity for young Latinas.
The historical origins of this rite of passage remain unclear to scholars, yet the current value of the quinceañera is undeniable. The celebration usually involves a Mass in a Catholic church, though as more and more Latino/as convert to Protestant denominations, quinceañera services also occur in these settings as well. The Mass symbolizes the young quinceañera’s commitment to Catholic morals and values, and her dedication to her faith as a young adult. The quinceañera processes into the church along with her court of fifteen friends, and during the Mass the young woman renews her baptismal vows. Certain gifts—religious and secular items that mark the young woman’s transition into adulthood— are blessed during the Mass that seeks to integrate the quinceañera’s rite of passage with her Catholic faith and her community.
Empowering young women
The quinceañera not only emphasizes the importance of Catholic faith for a young Latina, but also highlights her cultural heritage in the United States as a Latina. This strong affirmation of Hispanic identity can be a source of empowerment for a young woman living in a dominant culture that often belittles or misunderstands Hispanic cultural values. This ritual simultaneously integrates Catholic and Latina identity, becoming an example of popular Catholicism that demonstrates the manner in which all of our faith expressions are intimately tied to our cultural values. In uniting the quinceañera’s family, friends and church, the celebration emphasizes the importance of community to one’s faith and culture.
Perhaps that is why now I regret not having my “quince.” I do not miss the party or all the materialism that has unfortunately crept into these celebrations (there are even quinceañera cruises now). But I do regret not having participated in that cultural and religious transition into adulthood, affirming the interconnectedness of my Latina and Catholic identities.
Learning more about quinceañera
For more information on quinceañera
, visit the Web sites of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
and “Learn NC Editions” of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
What rites of passage have you experienced or witnessed for women? Do you think such rites are important? Why? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Friday, July, 17, 2009