While some girls dream of high school prom or their wedding day, many young Latinas look most forward to their quinceañera.
In Mexican culture, a quince, as it is also known, is a celebration of a young woman’s transition into adulthood upon turning 15 years old. Leading up to this highly anticipated milestone — one often marked with a big, princess-like dress and a choreographed waltz — the girl’s family saves money to cover all aspects of what can be a costly event. After all, from the dress to the venue, a quinceañera is meant to be a party like no other.
With flashy lights, catered meals and DJs, quinceañeras look much different than they did in the late 1900s. While the milestone’s significance hasn’t changed through the years, some wonder if these parties, which generally require up to 10 months of planning, have become more of a way to impress others than a personal celebration.
“Every party seems to have something crazy involved to make it look ‘cool,’ ” says Dalia Santos, a freshman at Santa Fe High School who is planning her party.
Quinceañeras require a team effort, with every family member — from a girl’s mother to her extended cousin — involved in the planning process. Sometimes in an attempt to please everyone, things can get out of control, says Melissa Glick, service manager at the Santa Fe Convention Center.
“I think expectations are always high for big special events like this,” she says.
But, “they should be. These events create lifelong memories and really matter to the people throwing the party,” she says.
Alicia Garcia, a freshman at Capital High School, agrees, noting the only reason to go over the top should be for one’s self — not for others.
¨You only turn 15 once, so why not celebrate big?” she says.“I think quinceañeras are more for you than for people. It’s your special day.¨
But making the day memorable can create financial stress. Quinceañeras are very expensive, and the bigger the party, the more pricey they become. Some costs include the venue, a dress, hiring a photographer, food catering and decorations. This generally adds up to at least $5,000; some event planners say the celebrations can total hundreds of thousands of dollars — much more than the average wedding.
To help alleviate the financial burden on the girl’s immediate family, numerous family members typically pitch in. Oftentimes, padrinos, or godparents, will pay for a certain aspect, such as the dress or cake.
Hermoine Alvarez, a freshman at Santa Fe, says she thinks her quinceañera cost around $11,000.
Due to financial reasons, many girls do not have a quinceañera. Their families simply cannot afford to host such a big event. Or they have more important things to pay for.
That was the case for Allison Pereira-Leon, a junior at Mandela International Magnet School.
Because her family has been providing financial assistance to extended family in El Salvador, “we couldn’t exactly save the money for it properly,” she says. If she could have had a party, she says, she would have wanted one.
Other girls opt not to have a quinceañera, simply because they don’t want one. In many cases, they’ll ask for a gift — a car or a vacation, for example — instead.
Garcia says that in addition to a small party, her family bought her a MacBook Air and a new phone, “which I really wanted [more than a quinceañera].”
Sometimes the gifts can be just as meaningful as the actual quinceañera, she says, adding she “really needed a laptop for school, so it was great getting one for my birthday. It was more necessary than any party.”
For others, the symbolism of a quince is too sentimental to pass up.
For some, the most important tradition at a quinceañera is the changing of the shoes, a moment in which the father helps his daughter change into heels from sneakers. This symbolic gesture represents the transition of a girl becoming a woman. The father-daughter dance, which shows a father presenting his daughter into society, is another highlight. Additionally, there’s the “last doll,” one final toy given to the birthday girl as a way to bid farewell to her childhood.
Fatima Gutierrez, a freshman at Monte del Sol Charter School, says her quinceañera is approaching quickly, and she’s most excited for the father-daughter dance. She and her dad have been rehearsing it for months.
“I do think my quinceañera will be an emotional time for me,” Guttirez says. “It will signify me becoming a woman, and the traditions will only remind me of that even more.”
Valeria Ramirez is a freshman at Santa Fe High School. Contact her at email@example.com.