Throughout history it is seen that ceremonies for reaching adulthood have always been common; special rights of passage that signified the beginning of a mature life.
In modern day America, this is known as the “Sweet 16,” which usually involves a party and the gift of a car.
Hispanic culture is not so different. What is seen throughout Mexico as well as South America is the tradition of a girl becoming a young lady. This is known as the Quinceñera.
In Spanish, Quince means 15, so a Quinceñera is celebrated when a girl turns 15 rather than 16. But what exactly does it entail? A party is thrown, but it is lavish, very traditional and is more family oriented. It takes months of planning, every detail is part of the tradition and it is best described as the wedding of one person. The young girl chooses damas, which is the equivalent of bridesmaids, and chambelánes, like the groomsmen. The quinceñera must also choose her colors and the dresses and tuxes are based accordingly.
The ceremony begins usually at a Catholic church where a religious blessing is given to the young girl. Afterwards, the quinceñera party hops on a limo and they go around town showing off their outfits and taking pictures. Meanwhile, the family arrives at the party destination, greet each other and begin to take their seats.
The place gets packed in about 30-45 minutes. The quinceñera party arrives and the DJ introduces the quinceñera and her family. The father-daughter dance begins and the damas and chambelánes dance in couples around them. The quniceñera usually has one chambelán who is her main partner and they usually dance after the father-daughter dance. Soon enough the entire family gets up to dance and take turns with the quinceñera.
After the big dance, everyone begins to pile their plates high with food and the DJ begins to announce who helped pay for what part of the party, otherwise known as the godparents. The parents of the 15-year-old say a few words, causing a couple of tears, and then the quinceñera party puts on a performance. Shortly after, everyone gets up and dances the night away with the reception usually ending at 1 a.m.
Alice Pedraza always knew she wanted to have a Quinceñera. A sophomore in high school in Lowell, Pedraza began to plan her Quinceñera in May and the day of her celebration was July 27.
“It was a little late start,” Pedraza said.
Pedraza and her family started to plan everything from the colors (salmon and mint), to the invites, the music list, and finding the godparents to help pay for the event. About 150-200 guests attended and the festivities lasted from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. the next day. Yet, Pedraza was up at 7:30 a.m. that morning just getting ready with her damas for her big day.
Jason Herrera, a sophomore in high school in Rogers and one of Pedraza’s chambeláns said this wasn’t the first Quinceñera in which he was a part.
“Before this party, I’ve been a chambelán three times, but at the end of this year I would’ve been a chambelán six times,” Herrera said.
As a chambelán, Herrera said it is really time consuming and costly. Each chambelán and dama is in charge of renting their tuxedo or dress, and buying the costumes for the performance dances. For this Quinceñera, they all practiced three hours everyday starting in June.
“Usually we start practicing once a week a year in advance, but we had a time crunch,” Herrera said.
Herrera doesn’t regret being a part of these parties. He said his favorite part is the dances he gets to perform.
“It’s really fun. I get to be with friends and party,” Herrera said.
For Pedraza, family was the most important element of her celebration.
“Getting to see my relatives was the best part,” Pedraza said. “Family is the big thing for me.”
Quinceñera tradition changes with each family’s home country region and religion. All in all, a Quinceñera is much more than a big party and a beautiful ball gown. It’s about tradition and family getting together for the celebration of adulthood.
The memories Pedraza has of her big day will remain with her until she has a daughter of her own to pass the tradition down to, like her mother passed down to her.
“It’s all about how a little girl becomes a woman,” she said.
National Hispanic Heritage Month
The period from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 in the United States. Sept. 15 was chosen as the starting point for the celebration because it is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. They all declared independence in 1821. In addition, Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16, Sept. 18 and Sept. 21, respectively. This festival will highlight music and dance, culture, food and community with a wide variety of exciting activities. The 2013 Festival will be held on Sept. 27 and 28 at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Fayetteville and this year’s featured country will be Panama!