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What is Quinceanera?
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La Quinceañera:  "Wherever it is celebrated, the quinceañera remains a cultural marker for Latinidad and, more specifically, mexicanidad, and for the honoree it remains a coming-of-age ritual.  In all cases, the celebration signals a change, a transformation; it is therefore loaded with significant ritual behaviors that reflect the transformation.... (18)

"The quinceañera dress is the young woman's first formal adult attire.  Like the wedding gown, it marks a change in the wearer's status in the community.  The wedding gown signals that the woman is joining the ranks of married women; she becomes a señora.  The quinceañera dress signals that the young woman is moving from girlhood to her new status as señorita and is available for marriage.  Because it is formal, the dress indicates the coming-of-age of the celebrant and is therefore a critical element in the fiesta.  (19)

"Along with the dress, which is usually formal length, the honoree wears a special headpiece, a diadema or tiara, and carries a matching nosegay, or ramo.... Traditional artists who make the arreglos for weddings and quinceañeras use natural flowers dipped in wax to construct the elaborate headpieces and ramos.... (20)

Other markers of the female role that the young woman is about to assume include the prayer book, or missal, and rosary, always referred to as the libro y rosario.  In the quinceañera, the libro y rosario signal the coming-of-age of the celebrant, for she no longer receives the child-sized rosary or the first communion missal but adult objects for worshipping as an adult.  Through the gift of the libro y rosario the young women are initiated into a gender-specific domain for prayer and religion often seen as the domain of women.  One contested element is the substitution of the traditional Spanish-language prayer book with an English-language Bible.  In the U.S. Latino community, an increasing number of publications clearly meant for the quinceañera have been published in English.  This variation from the traditionnal Spanish-language missal can be seen as a move to affirm and signal thehonoree's bilingual cultural experience even as it signals the feminine.  (21)

The young woman also receives gifts of jewelry that signify that she is about to join the adult world--the ring, esclava (identity bracelet), earrings, and the religious medal, the medalla de oro, often of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  Erevia mentions that "the medal symbolizes the religious expression of faith" and that the young woman is placed under the protection of the image on the medal...(and) becomes aware of a special connection to the Virgen de Guadalupe (Davalos).  Some churches have instituted classes for the young woman and her court of honor, where they receive instruction on the meaning of the celebration.  The quinceañera is told that she is now avowed to the Virgen de Guadalupe.  She recites a prayer during the mass:  "Our Lady of Guadalupe, I honor you a the Mother of God.  I ask that you guide my steps as I am molded into the image of Jesus, your son.  Help me to be faithful to my baptismal promise" (Erevia).  As an adult, she can now wear the expensive piece of jewlery, the gold medal of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  But the medal signals more than her coming-of-age, it also functions as an identity marker that focuses her attention on her cultural heritage and establishes a diret link to her indigenous past.... (21)

".... the ring, the bracelet, and the last doll.  The madrina de anillo gives the quinceañera a birthstone ring.  Like the medal, it may be inscribed with the initials and the date.  In some cases, when there is no quinceañera celebration, the parents or grandparents still give the young woman a ring as a symbol of her coming-of-age.... (T)he community and the family expect that someday she will replace the quinceañera ring with another lifecycle marker, a wedding band or an engagement ring.  While children might wear gold bracelets, the esclava of the quinceañera signifies adulthood and the feminine.... (22)

".... other aspects of the celebration are more clearly symbolic of her new status as a woman.  Various symbolic acts, such as the first dance and the drinking of alcohol, signal initiation into adulthood for young people in various cultures.  The quinceañera, however, may feature additional elements.... The brindis, or toast, the first waltz often danced with the father, and a number of other aspects of the celebration also occur at weddings, yet there are some ritual actions particular to the quinceañera.  During the reception, when the emcee announces that the young woman will now change from flats to high heels, or announces that it is time for the entrega de la ultima muneca, those in attendance clap and gather around for the spectacle....  (She) cradles the doll as if it were a baby.  This...action perhaps shows that, more than a sign of her last doll, the signifier stands for her new capacity to be a mother.  These symbolic acts clearly mark a change in the status of the young woman.... The dress, the jewlry, the doll, and the shoes are icons of her new secular status as a woman in society, while the Virgen de Guadalupe medal and the libro y rosario signal her new status in a religious sense. (23)

 

Written by Norma E. Cantú, in the article "Chicana Life-Cycle Rituals," published in the book Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change, edited by Norma E. Cantú and Olga Nájera-Ramirez.  University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Other writings on the quinceañera mentioned here are:  Karen Mary Dávalos's article:  "La Quinceañera: Making Gender and Ethnic Identities," Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies 16 (2-3): 101-27, 1996; Angela Erevia also wrote three booklets about the quinceañera in San Antonio Texas.

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