Photo by danielCRUZmartinez

Photo by danielCRUZmartinez

Twelve years seems like a very long time. That’s how much time has to pass before my daughter, Vanessa, turns 15. But because of some pretty huge contest in which the winner could get a party package worth $45,000 for the Quinceañera of her dreams–don’t worry, I’ll share all the details below–I’ve been thinking about this rite of passage tradition and all its implications.

I did not celebrate my 15th birthday with what is commonly known in the Latino community as a Quinceañera. Es más, I don’t particularly remember turning 15, except for the fact that it occurred about six months after I moved from Perú to Miami–where, by the way, Quinces are a pretty huge ordeal among the Cuban-American population.

I might be wrong, but this is not a tradition fully shared by all countries in Latin America. I don’t remember any of my friends back home in Perú partaking in this coming-of-age celebration, nor do I remember my sister, who’s four years older than me, being invited to any kind of lavish party like the ones usually associated with a Quinceañera. I do know that turning 15 means a whole lot in countries like Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Although it is important to point out that the actual way it’s celebrated usually differs from country to country.

I also know that for a lot of parents this momentous occasion means many years of saving to make sure they can tirar la casa por la ventana when the time comes.

De Niña a Mujer…

From what I understand, Quinceañeras go back to the time of the Aztecs when the celebration had to with the fact that when a girl turned 15, she was ready to become a mother. Once the Spaniards arrived, they apparently liked the idea so much that they made it their own by adding the Catholic Church component to the celebration. That’s why today, most Quinceañeras will start with a religious ceremony before moving on to the grand bash.

Similar to a wedding in many ways, the party includes a court of honor with chambelanes and damas donning tuxedos and gowns. Usually, together with the birthday girl, they will put on a choreographed dance show–for which they have been rehearsing several months prior to the big day–to entertain the rest of the guests. There’s also the typical “Waltz” which the girl can dance with either her father of her chambelán, the brindis and the multi-tiered birthday cake.

There are a couple of symbolic acts that take place during the party and both of them have to do with the concept of the girl becoming a woman. One of them is the changing of the shoes–the moment in which the father helps her daughter change from the flat shoes she came in to the party with to the high heels which with she will leave the party. The other ritual is known as “la última muñeca” and, according to my Mexican friends, this is when the quinceañera is given her last doll to dance with–again signifying her transition into womanhood.

Sounds like a lot of fun, no? In terms of cultural traditions, it doesn’t get any better than that, ¿no creen?

One interesting tidbit I found as I was researching this topic is that this tradition is becoming more and more popular in the U.S. than in Latin America as Latinos strive to preserve their culture by holding on to any and all customs and rituals.

Which brings me back to the whole issue of my daughter and the 12 years that have to go by before she celebrates her Quinces. Although I can’t really relate to any of the stuff I’ve written about in this post, I wonder how it will be for her and how she will feel about it growing up in the U.S. surrounded by a growing Latino community? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

The Party of Your Dreams

In the meantime, going back to that awesome giveaway I was referring to at the beginning, if you know of anybody that is about to celebrate their Quinceañera, they need to know about the party worth $45,ooo that Verizon Wireless will be giving to one lucky winner to celebrate a lo grande!

Here’s what you need to know:

From now until August 16, eligible teenagers from Los Angeles, San Jose, Las Vegas, Denver and Kennewick, Wash. metro areas are invited to enter the My Fabulous 15 contest. Twenty winners from each city will be selected by Verizon Wireless and the public will have an opportunity to vote August 22 through August 31 for the semi-finalist they feel most deserves the grand prize. The public can vote via text messaging or the My Fabulous 15 website.  The Grand Prize winner of the Quince party will be announced on September 3.

The Grand Prize My Fabulous 15 party will be held October 3, when one lucky winner will celebrate his/her dream party with up to 200 friends and family. Verizon Wireless’ My Fabulous 15 includes transportation for up to ten guests to the party, personal event planner, audio/visual screens, dinner, DJ/emcee, decorations, birthday cake, professional photographer and videographer. PLUS: a live performance by pop singer Pee Wee! The Grand Prize package is worth over $45,000.

For more information including rules, eligibility and more, go to:

Since I am always on a quest to learn more, especially when it comes to our traditions and culture, I would love it if you share with us whatever it is you know about this great Latino celebration–whether you want to tell us about your own Quinceañera or about how its celebrated wherever you might come from…

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