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The Scarlet & Black

Students celebrate the tradition of Quinceañera

While watching MTV shows about extravagent coming-of-age celebrations, the meaning of a Quinceañera can be lost in the clutter of prime-time. However, the cultural and historical importance of the event is not reflected by an MTV-style outrageous party.

Last Saturday in Harris Center, Student Organization of Latinos/Latinas (SOL), presented the Grinnell Community with this important tradition—a coming-of-age celebration that recognizes and honors a young woman’s passage from childhood to adulthood at the age of 15.

“Quinceañeras are a really important facet of becoming an adult in Hispanic culture particularly if you’re a young lady,” said Graciela Guzman ’11, who organized the event. “Because half of that event is a celebration and we thought, here’s a great opportunity to incorporate a Grinnell aspect, which is Harris, give it a context, and still have fun.”
The event presented the different traditions and information regarding Quinceañera celebrations, in addition to providing food, music, a photo booth and a make-your-own recuerdos—mementos—booth.

Since the Quinceañera was a new event at Grinnell College, SOL faced some challenges in planning, such as how to best depict a Quinceañera. There was a danger of making a mockery of a cherished ceremony if the event’s festivities overlooked cultural significance.

“Before they had started the presentation they asked people if they’ve been to a Quinceañera or knew what it was and majority of the people [said they] didn’t know what it was,” said Harpreet Singh ’12, who attended the event. “I think it’s really important that SOL is doing this so they can bring Latino culture for more integration of the different cultures on campus.”

Originally, a Quinceañera began as a Catholic ritual involving a mass or a blessing in the church. Today, Quinceañera celebrations can vary greatly in practice.

“Quinceañeras range from very personal backyard BBQ with close family [to spending] hundreds of thousands of dollars like you see on MTV that’s kind of influenced how people see Quinceañeras,” said Gustavo Arambula ’10, one of the organizers of the event. “It’s become this pan-Latino concoction, tradition, that everyone celebrates. It’s very much infused with U.S. consumerism but a lot of people still stick to the traditional aspect of it.”

One of the goals of SOL’s Quinceañera was to debunk popular notion of a Quinceañera as an extravagant party—as seen in MTV Tr3s’s “Quiero Mis Quinces”—by emphasizing the traditions of the event. A Quinceañera is a process that requires extensive preparation, not just organizationally, but also mentally, according to Guzman.
“You have all these adults who are telling you, be ultra-religious, follow this path, or this is what a young lady should do, [and] you kind of get to pick a little bit of what you want to take and create yourself,” Guzman said. “It’s the process of molding yourself and I think that’s what makes it so special.”

Guzman recalled her own Quinceañera, which was a simple affair without the ostentation of the media’s portrayal of a Quinceañera.

“My family is ultra Catholic so we had a traditional mass and I had a really small gathering with my family and we just had lunch and that was it,” Guzman said. “For me the most important part of it was my transition through my faith and it was very evident through what was focused on and what wasn’t, with the biggest part [being] the Mass.”

Though Quinceañeras do vary from person to person, Arambula pointed out that the gendered nature of the event’s traditions can be seen as problematic.

“For a Quinceañera, traditionally, the Quinceañera—the girl—has to wear a dress,” Arambula said. “It has to be puffy, like gender representation, and you have to wear makeup. Sometimes the father, when [the girl] comes into the party and she’s wearing flats, [he] changes her shoes into high heels and it symbolizes womanhood.”
Guzman emphasized the importance of understanding the complex social milieus that shape each Quinceañera.

“I hope people understand that traditions are multi-faceted things,” Guzman said. “Traditions are influenced by the same factors as everything else in our lives, class, race, gender, etc. that are going to influence what you do, and we wanted to get people to have that sense that traditions aren’t fixed.”

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