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The Quinceañera: The Ultimate Rite Of Passage


Every civilization has its rights of passage. These rituals are meant to act as a dividing line between childhood and adulthood. The Jews have the Bar and Bat Mitzvah, the Sioux have the Sundance, and the Spartans had that apoge thing from 300 where you run around naked in the woods and kill wolves. We Latinos have our own grueling ordeal for pubescent teens: the quince. Though it is primarily intended as a “coming out” party for the girl turning 15, we would argue that it is a right of passage for the boys in her court as well. It is something all Latino men must do. Can you really call yourself a Latino male if you haven’t worn an ugly tux and awkwardly danced a waltz?

The quinceañera is something the Spanish brought to Latin America along with cholera. The practice died out in Spain, but flourished in Latin America. Back in the days when most people only lived to be 30, as soon as a girl hit puberty she was ready to be married. So, the quinceañera was a way of announcing her readiness to marry and a convenient way to show her off to potential husbands. The traditions regarding quinceañeras vary from country to country. In Mexico, there is usually a special thanksgiving mass. In South America, the couples have to perform special dances throughout the night, which is just cruel. Regardless, some things are standard everywhere. The court is made up of 15 couples plus the quinceañera and her partner. The first dance is always a waltz. Then there is usually a traditional song from whatever country the girl’s family originates. This is followed by the “surprise” dance, which can be anything the quinceañera wants. This is usually when the girls dance all sexy and grandmas get shocked.

It is a right of passage for Latino men as well. Let’s face it, we Latinos usually have huge families. That means cousins, sisters, godcousins, plus our school friends, many of whom will be having quinceañeras. This author was in seven over a period of three years. It can be a fun, if frightening process. You have to go to dance rehearsals for weeks before the quinceañera. As a young man coming into puberty, it is a great excuse to actually get to touch a girl. If you are lucky, they’ll stick you with a girl you like from class. If you aren’t lucky, they’ll put you with your 12-year-old cousin. The birthday girl’s parent usually hire a dance instructor to teach the bubbling balls of sweat and hormones how to dance. This is a terrifying prospect, particularly if you lack any dancing skills. The boys must pretend they are not into it (even if they are) and the girls must pretend they are interested (even if they are not). It is a game of intention, with the guys trying to act like they are too cool for all this dancing crap. When the day of the quinceañera comes, the boys must don their tuxes without complaint, even if the cumberbun and tie match the quinceañera’s hot pink dress. Then comes the most frightening part: actually having to perform the dance in front of all of the guests at the quinceañera. You feel tense, not wanting to look foolish in front off all these girls, your parents, God, and the caterers. You power through as best you can, and come out on the other side with a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps, you’ve gained enough confidence to ask your dance partner to go see a movie with you. Or maybe you just fling off your pink bow tie and hang out with your friends. Either way, it is something we all must do. Your father did it, your grandfather did it, and now you did it. Plus, there is usually cake.

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