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A Young Girl at Her QuinceaneraComing of age rituals are prevalent in many cultures across the world, both past and present. Each rite of passage places emphasis on values and responsibilities deemed to be important when a young person transitions from childhood to adulthood. One nearly universal aspect of these celebrations is that young people are expected to assume the duties and social station ascribed to their assigned genders. While modern realities surrounding one’s status as an adult and gender performance have transformed significantly, these coming of age rites remain. The quinceañera, a celebration that marks a girl’s passage into womanhood, is just one example. 

The Ceremony's Roots in Aztec Culture

The quinceañera traces its origins back to traditions among the Aztecs, which were one of the largest groups of indigenous peoples in the Americas prior to European arrival. Learn NC’s article about the ceremony indicates that it was the venue in which young women were presented to their communities, announcing their status as marriageable adults. The elder women of the community would introduce each young woman to her responsibilities, then urge her to follow a path that upheld their traditions and beliefs. In addition, she was given gifts along with portions of her dowry. The word “quinceañera” is Spanish and is the feminine form of “fifteen-year-old.” It takes on multiple meanings, not just to refer to the rite but also to the girl and her age at its celebration. 

European Influence and Catholicism Shaped the Quinceañera

The Spanish and French colonialists who later arrived on the continent brought with them their own coming of age rites. Upper-class Spanish families would introduce their daughters to the rest of society at large formal gatherings, and the French settlers who came after them observed similar traditions. Even after the Mexicans drove out the French and new cultural and ethnic realities resulted from Spanish conquest, some of the new natives incorporated aspects of these European formal balls into the traditional Aztec celebrations.

Moreover, Spanish Catholic influences have played a part in shaping the rite into its modern form. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a short guide that disclosed the religious practices that typically accompany the present-day form of this celebration. It involves a traditional Catholic Mass that begins with a processional by the young woman, accompanied by her family and companions of her choice. A special liturgy that includes pre-selected readings, a blessing and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are part of most quinceañera masses. Finally, these religious services are followed by a dinner and dancing.

Immigrants Brought the Tradition to the United States

As Hispanic people migrated further northward from Latin America into the United States, they carried their cultural practices with them. In the second half of the 20th century, the quinceañera gained popularity with Hispanic communities growing in number across the nation. While the first instances of the quinceañera were documented in the 1980s, they have become more widespread in the last 10 to 20 years. Variations of the rite differ slightly between Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans, Columbians and others who have settled from all over Latin America. 

Modern Circumstances May Bring a Shift in Its Meaning

While most quinañceras are not immediately anticipating marriage, these fêtes can still signal a transition from childhood into more adult realities. A 2011 article in the Victoria Advocate profiled Sara Ayala, a Texas resident who’d recently marked her own passage. As she disclosed to writer Gheni Platenburg, her thoughts turned to her schooling and career plans, her family and her faith. As long as gender equality remains an ongoing goal, other women crossing this threshold into adulthood may contend with similar realities as they mature.


Category: Ceremonies Society


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