Treasure Coast Palm (Florida)
January 26, 2004

Quinceañera tradition returns in United States, more elaborate than ever

By Katie Campbell staff writer

FELLSMERE ó When the first Solis daughter celebrated her quinceañera 14 years ago, hardly any of the other Mexican teens in Fellsmere followed suit.

"Here in the states it wasnít popular," the eldest Solis, Noelia Raya, 29, said.

The dresses, invitations and party supplies werenít as available in U.S. stores as they are today. In recent years, thatís changed and Raya said she noticed more Fellsmere families were hosting quinceañeras.

"Weíve had 12 or 14 birthdays in the last year and our schedule is full until May," said the Rev. Noel McGrath of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission Church in Fellsmere. "More immigrants are settling, and theyíre not forgetting the culture they came from. Other cultures lose their traditions, but in this community they are allowed to speak the language and keep their traditions."

The third Solis daughter, Velia Solis, 27, agreed, saying, "This is one of the few traditions that we continue. We do it because thereís a community here. Itís expected. They all know the tradition."

Itís a trend throughout Florida, said Professor Philip Williams, who has been studying the role of religion in the Mexican immigrant community of Immokalee.

"I donít know why itís growing but it certainly isnít dying," Williams said.

While the parties are more common, not every birthday bash is as grandiose as 15-year-old Evelia Solisí, which cost the family $13,300. The level of extravagance depends on the familyís economic status, Williams said.

"Thereís symbolism in spending $13,000 because thatís a big hit for them. Itís a symbol of having Ďmade ití in America," Williams said. By Fellsmere standards, the Solis family has "made it" since they settled in Fellsmere in 1975 and the father, Ramiro Solis, started working as a field manager for Graves Brothers, a citrus company in Wabasso.

Overall, quinceañeras in the United States are more elaborate now than they were back in Latin America, said Uva de Aragon, Florida International Universityís Latin American Department assistant director.

"As immigrants progress economically, they have more money to afford this type of thing. They want their daughters in America to have what they wouldnít have been able to have before," de Aragon, a Cuba native, said. "In other countries it might have had a religious component before. In the United States itís really not a religious tradition. Itís a party."

While Latino immigrants have forgone traditions such as wearing certain clothes and taking mid-afternoon siestas, the quinceañera tradition continues because it melded with the consumer aspect of American society, de Aragon said.

"Itís become an economic social status event of showing off to the community," she said.

Continuing the quinceañera tradition, however, has also become a way to affirm cultural identity, Williams said.

"Itís a way of rejecting the notion of the melting pot as opposed to just assimilating into the dominate American culture," Williams said.

Raya said she was proud the tradition continued with her youngest sister and she hopes her own children have quinceañeras.

"Itís important to keep the tradition because itís part of us. Itís part of our heritage."

- katie.campbell@scripps.com