For something as culturally specific to the Latino population as quinceañeras, these coming-of-age celebrations have certainly entered into the public consciousness and captivated even non-Latinos. It’s why someone like Mike Chesworth of Phoenix, Arizona threw his 15-year-old poodle a quinceañera last year. And why French photographer Delphine Blast spent some time in the suburbs of south Bogotá documenting and learning from 15 young women what having a quinceañera meant to them. And with the quinceañera industry booming in places like Arizona and Cuba (and probably many places in between), it’s no wonder the team at Latino USA wanted to learn more about the rite of passage.
In this week’s episode, the crew took a deep dive into the world of quinces. Starting at the NY Bridal & Quince Expo held at CitiField, María Hinojosa and Latino USA producer Antonia Cereijido witnessed a throng of pre-teen and teen girls excitedly waiting to examine the dresses. An ice fountain, people dancing on stilts, and mariachis made the event – much like a quinceañera – larger-than-life. While Cereijido fully embraced the event (“look at all the women in sparkly clothes feeling themselves, this is all you could ask for”), Hinojosa didn’t. And just like that, the two women showed that quinceañeras can be divisive.
After much research, Cereijido found a lot of conflicting reports on the party’s origin. Rites of passage parties existed for many cultures pre-Industrial Revolution. However, quinceañeras may not actually date back to Mayan and Aztec civilizations. Tying it to history is perhaps a way to defend the practice – one that some think is frivolous.
At the same time, it’s a celebration of womanhood. The not quite 15-year-old Samantha Castro attended the expo, and she explained that a quinceañera is her way to establish who she is. “I would like to be an orthodontist, to have my own career, because my parents never went to college. So I want to be the first one to have an education in my family,” Samantha said. “[During the quince] I’ll become a woman and set up my goals and reach for my goals, have future plans.” That’s why Cereijido argues that the quinceañera might be more a “radical expression of brown girl self love” than an outdated practice.
Other than looking at quinceañera through a historical lens, the episode also meets with a self-proclaimed “quince lord” and family friends debating whether to host a quince. For this episode, Cereijido followed Hailey Alexis from Whittier, California for a year. She went dress shopping in the Los Angeles Fashion District and attended last-minute dance rehearsals in the lead-up to Hailey’s big day.
Check out the full episode below: