Coming of age for today’s Latino girls

Growing up as a bi-racial Hispanic-American girl in Chicago, my friends and I dreamed about the day of our Quinceañera.

A Quince isn’t just a big party that today can rival a wedding when it comes to the planning that can sometimes take years, the hair and the amazing dress. It remains a celebration of family tradition steeped in faith that blesses a 15-year-old girl on her journey as a woman.

But today’s girls are putting their own signature stamp on their coming out event—and it’s not always without drama.

The dress

The choice of a Quinceañera dress is as essential (and sometimes as costly) as a wedding dress. The outfit is the key to making the girl feel like a princess on what will be her biggest milestone to date.

 The design signals that she is leaving behind childhood and entering adulthood. And today, there are no limits to how elaborate a Quinceañera dress can be, with costs ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands.

In many cases, the parents are more than happy to gift the dress of her dreams to their daughter no matter the financial burden, but do fight to keep it tasteful. The goal is to make the transition to womanhood a happy and elegant event that respects the family’s traditions.

The hair

Mario Negron, owner of M2 Hair Salon in Oak Park who has been creating looks for Quince girls for more than 25 years, says traditional princess hairstyles are not always the go-to these days.

“First, she wants what her mother doesn’t want, that’s for sure, so there ensues the battle,” he says. “They want to emulate the pop stars in the music videos. So, sometimes, the experience of what mom originally hopes for isn’t the soft innocent look that she has envisioned her little girl’s perfect Quince hairstyle.”

 When conflict erupts, sometimes with arguing, screaming, tears, even a tantrum, dad gets called in to settle the dispute and chooses the hairstyle.

Nothing is too extreme these days when it comes to hair and make-up, Negron says.

He even had a client who brought in a wire bird cage shaped like the Eiffel Tower and insisted it be used as a “bump” to give her hair the right height and form.

La Comida y Familia

Food and family play a huge role in the Quinceañera.

No matter the family’s financial status, each Quinceañera has sponsors for all of the fiesta’s needs such as flowers, shoes, venue, decorations, food, the band or DJ and even the cake that sometimes is just as extravagant a wedding cake.

Food also is a very important part; the choices are a part of what keeps Hispanic customs alive and it always brings together the warmth of family.

Sometimes, though, a family’s wishes overrides the girl’s.

Arabel Alva Rosales, a Chicago businesswoman and co-founder of Latino Fashion Week, has seen parents’ desires make their daughter’s experience miserable. In one instance, she says, the parents “wanted to take the opportunity to showcase the event as their time to shine, show off their wealth or status to other family and friends who attended the party and it became quite stressful for the daughter.”

Still, after all the money has been spent, tantrums that were had and craziness of every single aunt and uncle about not having enough Mariachi time on the dance floor, there’s one thing that remains the same for all young Hispanic women. No matter what background a young girl is from, when it comes time for a Quinceañera to finally appear on her calendar, it is one of the biggest thrills and most significant events for that young woman, and her entire family.

It will give her memories that will last a lifetime.

Good to know

  • Quinceañera is the combination of “15” and “years” in Spanish and refers to both the celebration of birth and a girl’s transition to womanhood at 15 years old.
  • The Corte de Honor is made up of cousins, family friends and close classmates (damas=young ladies and chambelanes=gentlemen) and accompany her to church, through her dances and serve as her court for the evening. The Corte traditionally consisted of 14 girls and 14 boys, but modern celebrations sometimes have as few as seven. A lot of preparation and dedication comes with being part of the Corte; members must be committed to learning the dances and being present for all parts of the event’s preparation.
  • The main Chambelan is the young man who will escort the senorita and is an honorable position to have at a Quinceañera. Generally, the main Chambelan is a relative close to the girl. He is the person who will help make her feel like a princess for the day.
  • The Waltz is the first dance after the introduction of the party, of the young woman and her parents. The traditional performance is sometimes followed by a more modern dance routine.
  • La ultima muñeca is the last doll, which symbolizes the step from childhood to adulthood. It is presented during the church ceremony, signifying leaving behind toys and taking on new roles, new interests and becoming more independent. Sometimes the young woman will toss her doll during the reception to another young girl in the family.
  • La ultima zapatilla is a tradition of changing the shoes, from girl to womanhood. Traditionally it is the first time she wears high-heeled shoes.
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