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To do or not to do?

Today’s quinceaneras aren’t an invention of youtube or modern celebration norms dictated by Miley Cyrus, Hispanic Selena of yester-year, or even a spinoff of popular Reggaeton music and style of late, nor have they ever been.  Fads seem to come and go and come back again (Puro Retro).  Even “Old School” gets attention in clothing, music, etc…Quinceaneras are still, however, proving to be an important part of Hispanic culture spanning from Mexico and South America to present day United States.  What are these celebrations and why haven’t they faded out like so many other traditions and fads?
Well, let’s have a look shall we?  First of all, let’s define QUINCEANERA.  It is a Spanish term that has two parts quince (fifteen) and anera or anos (year).  It is literally translated to -15 years-, referring mostly to an adolescent female celebrating her fifteenth birthday.  It is a landmark celebration for an adolescent female entering into womanhood.  This may be culturally out-dated, with most parents nowadays not even considering their daughters as women ready for responsibility, marriage and motherhood at still the tender age of 15.  Most folks I expect would agree with that notion.  However, this is a rite of passage ceremony and celebration that has existed by some who say as far back as 500 BC with the Aztecs in Mexico.  Males at 15 were ritualized and celebrated as fighting warriors.  Females at 15 were also celebrated into womanhood, ready, willing, and able for all that implies. They had full support and expectations from their parents, family, and community to become responsible and productive adults.  Some present day parents, and mothers in particular, may chime in at this point, “Mija ni es capaz de limpiar su cuarto y solo quiere estar platicando en su celular.” Nonetheless, many of these young adolescents want to have such a special event that they can call their own.  The celebration and significance has evolved somewhat, but still maintains focal elements that are still considered important.  For example in South Texas, Dr. Lino Garcia, Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature of University of Texas-Pan American, claims in an article in the Brownsville Herald in December of ’09,
“The Tejanos of South Texas have always enjoyed a strong work ethic, a love of family, strong patriotism, loyalty, and strong religious faith.  Family ties extend over many generations, and a family event is always a time to celebrate.  We can clearly see the Spanish-Jewish influence on our South Texas culture on the foods and other traditions that have played an important part in shaping the lives of today’s Tejanos.
The Catholic faith has greatly shaped the actual event, usually involving Holy Mass “en accion de gracias” (in thanksgiving).  The quinceanera celebration is not one of the professed and practiced sacraments of the Church’s teachings, though it is accepted at the family’s request as an opportunity to allow the young lady to renew her baptismal vows before God and the community.  She promises to live out her Catholic Christian faith more fully and responsibly in imitation of Jesus Christ, and practically so under the example, protection, and guidance of the Virgen De Guadalupe.  The Virgen Mary is believed and taught to be the greatest imitator and follower of her son Jesus Christ during her human earthly life, and now holds a special place in heaven to pray for those still on earth.  Though not all profess and practice the Catholic faith, the event is still joyfully experienced by many of good intentions adding or detracting certain ingredients.   Many celebrants surrounded by family and friends still maintain some prayerful and noble practices that lead the celebrant to a more respected and responsible status before her family, friends, and her community.  It may or may not involve going to a church or even having an extravagant dinner and dance at a local reception hall.  A key element remains that the young lady is recognized and now does accept a newfound respect and responsibility.
The dinner and dance that sometimes follows a Church visit or Holy Mass, appears in many instances to have become more and more lavish and expensive.  In many cases parents and family seem to over extend themselves and their means to provide a truly grandiose event.  Research shows great influence on the quinceanera ceremony’s reception as coming from the “Porfiriato,” referring to the latter period of the 1800’s under  Porfirio Diaz’s reign in Mexico.  It may be compared to the Victorian Era in Anglo-Saxon speaking countries.  President Diaz was so enamored with the French culture that much of the presentation and dance during the reception seems to have its origins in European royal gala events. The celebrant’s unique and flowing gown and carefully placed “tiara” along with her almost royal court of “damas” (female attendants) and  male “escorts” (formerly known by the French word “Chambelan”) brings to mind elegant social events at the palace with the King and Queen.  The “Vals” (Waltz), in which the young lady dances with her father is also an expected ritual.   These damas and escorts may practice for weeks on a specially choreographed dance, much in the tradition of old European royal pomp and show, with lady-like posturing and masculine bowing. 

Monica, 41, who lived in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, and other parts of Mexico, while growing up was removed from the tradition, as she and her sisters and friends did not accustom themselves to this rite of passage.  “We just didn’t do that, my mother and sisters.”  Monica admits to thinking later in life, “That it was an American imitation thing to the “sweet 16” celebrations of Anglo-American girls.”  She has attended some quinceaneras here in the Rio Grande Valley over the years that had no apparent religious significance, but “they were fun, expensive, an opportunity for family to come together, and it did seem like a big step in the girl’s lives.” 

Edith is a 35 year old Valley native raised in Sullivan City, Texas, recalls, “I refused to have a quinceanera because I was shy.  My parents tried to bribe me, but I was too much of a tomboy and didn’t even wear dresses.”  She explained how she regretted not having one at the time, but, “Now absolutely likes it” and believes that it teaches young ladies rite of passage to keep Mexican culture and tradition going.  She laughingly related how parents, in her experience growing up, seemed to hold the threat of not giving their daughters a quinceanera if they had sex prior to that age.  She guessed that parents were trying to use whatever means possible to keep their daughters virgins.  

Kimberly, 15, with her parents Johnny and Melissa from Edinburg, Texas along with family and friends enjoyed her quinceanera this past November of 2009.  She jokingly explained how she convinced her parents, “It was either that or a car.”  Johnny explained that it was really special and that her and her mother planned the event for about 2 and half years.  Kimberly agreed with her parents as Melissa explained that the most important thing agreed upon was the Holy Mass and Kimberly’s opportunity to renew her baptismal vows at Holy Family Catholic Church.  Kimberly was all smiles during the interview as she explained that she had 14 damas and she considered herself the 15th one appropriately so.  When asked what message she gave her friends and guests at her quinceanera through her words and actions, without hesitation she responded, “We are Church people and I just wanted to show them that I can have fun just like them, but at the same time be close to God and the Church.”                                

Well, in any case, nowadays with more young adolescent males starting to engage in the ceremonial rite as “quinceaneros,” it appears that this special event will continue to evolve in our culture in significance and practice.  Can you see our ancestor Aztecs roll over in their graves?  Just teasing quinceaneros! (maybe we can do an article on you guys next ok?)  With faith, family unity, and deeply rooted cultural traditions, Hispanics can keep the importance of the quinceanera alive and well, if parents, daughters, and family approach it with good intentions and clear goals.   Even if the celebration turns out to be just a few prayers and a small family gathering at home to celebrate “Mijas Quinceanera!”, it will have been a success.  Remember you only have one shot at it….her 15th birthday….her QUINCEANERA! 

Javier Rene Solis
Licensed Professional Counselor

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