Quinceanera Photographer

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The Quinceaños, or la fiesta Quinceañera, is a rite of passage for fifteen-year-old Latina girls. It is a community and family celebration full of tradition and meaning when a young girl is symbolically escorted into womanhood by her family and the event is witnessed by her community. The word itself comes from the Spanish quince, “fifteen,” and años, “years.” The origins of the Quinceañera are often attributed to the ancient customs of the Aztecs, but the ceremony and meaning behind it are similar to other ancient cultural initiation rites that occurred throughout the world. Fifteen was the age when many young women left their family home to become wives and then mothers, and almost as though passing through an invisible door, a Latina enters her Quinceañera as a child but emerges as a young woman with new responsibilities. Those who know and love her will see and treat her differently from that day forward.

For Latinas from Latin American and Puerto Rico, this is an old and revered tradition. The celebration as we know it today in the United States became popular in the 1930s and continues, even flourishing in communities where custom and ritual rekindle ethnic and family ties. But Quinceañeras, like mostly strongly held traditions, is not a static event, and the ways it is celebrated are changing with the times. Now many girls have combined the “American” concept of “sweet sixteen” with what would have been their Quinceañera. A Barbie Quinceañera doll in some cases replaces the handmade ultima muñeca, and families are beginning to celebrate the “coming of age” of their sons, too. These blendings of cultures can be found in many aspects of our traditional lives. Some have to do with the breakdown of traditional life, and some with a world of changing cultural mores. In whatever form it may take, a Quinceñera is a very special event happening only once in a girl’s life, so it is a time for rejoicing in the miracle of life and reaffirming one’s commitment to family, friends, tradition, and community
The Quinceanera, the traditional coming-of-age celebration for Latinas, is an an elegant party on the girl’s 15th birthday, highlighting God, family, friends, music, food and dance. Many questions emerge as one looks at this fascinating and complex rite of passage: what are its essential elements? What are its origins in indigenous Mexican tradition and in European tradition? What are the components that define it as a coming of age ritual? How does the performance of the feminine play out in the celebration? How do “border theory” and “mestizaje theory” apply to this particular event? In answering these and the more critical question–why would a family spend thousands of dollars to celebrate a birthday?–we can gain insight into the cultural practices of Latino communities.

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