La Quinceañera: "Wherever it is
celebrated, the quinceañera remains a cultural marker for Latinidad
and, more specifically, mexicanidad, and for the honoree it remains a coming-of-age ritual. In all cases,
the celebration signals a change, a transformation; it is therefore loaded with significant ritual behaviors
that reflect the transformation.
"The quinceañera dress is the young
woman's first formal adult attire. Like the wedding gown, it marks
a change in the wearer's status in the community. The wedding gown signals that the woman is joining
the ranks of married women; she becomes a señora. The quinceañera dress signals that the young
woman is moving from girlhood to her new status as señorita and is available for marriage. Because it
is formal, the dress indicates the coming-of-age of the celebrant and is therefore a critical element in the
"Along with the dress, which is usually formal
length, the honoree wears a special headpiece, a diadema
or tiara, and carries a matching nosegay, or ramo.... Traditional artists who make the arreglos for
weddings and quinceañeras use natural flowers dipped in wax to construct the elaborate headpieces and
Other markers of the female role that the young
woman is about to assume include the prayer book, or
missal, and rosary, always referred to as the libro y rosario. In the quinceañera, the libro y rosario
signal the coming-of-age of the celebrant, for she no longer receives the child-sized rosary or the first
communion missal but adult objects for worshipping as an adult. Through the gift of the libro y rosario
the young women are initiated into a gender-specific domain for prayer and religion often seen as the
domain of women. One contested element is the substitution of the traditional Spanish-language prayer
book with an English-language Bible. In the U.S. Latino community, an increasing number of
publications clearly meant for the quinceañera have been published in English. This variation from the
traiditonal Spanish-language missal can be seen as a move to affirm and signal thehonoree's bilingual
cultural experience even as it signals the feminine.
The young woman also receives gifts of jewelry
that signify that she is about to join the adult world--the
ring, esclava (identity bracelet), earrings, and the religious medal, the medalla de oro, often of the
Virgen de Guadalupe. Erevia mentions that "the medal symbolizes the religious expression of faith" and
that the young woman is placed under the protection of the image on the medal...(and) becomes aware
of a special connection to the Virgen de Guadalupe (Davalos). Some churches have instituted classes for
the young woman and her court of honor, where they receive instruction on the meaning of the
celebration. The quinceañera is told that she is now avowed to the Virgen de Guadalupe. She recites a
prayer during the mass: "Our Lady of Guadalupe, I honor you a the Mother of God. I ask that you
guide my steps as I am molded into the image of Jesus, your son. Help me to be faithful to my
baptismal promise" (Erevia). As an adult, she can now wear the expensive piece of jewlery, the gold
medal of the Virgen de Guadalupe. But the medal signals more than her coming-of-age, it also functions
as an identity marker that focuses her attention on her cultural heritage and establishes a diret link to
her indigenous past.
".... the ring, the bracelet, and the last
doll. The madrina de anillo gives the quinceañera a birthstone
ring. Like the medal, it may be inscribed with the initials and the date. In some cases, when there is no
quinceañera celebration, the parents or grandparents still give the young woman a ring as a symbol of
her coming-of-age.... (T)he community and the family expect that someday she will replace the
quinceañera ring with another lifecycle marker, a wedding band or an engagement ring. While children
might wear gold bracelets, the esclava of the quinceañera signifies adulthood and the feminine.
".... other aspects of the celebration are
more clearly symbolic of her new status as a woman. Various
symbolic acts, such as the first dance and the drinking of alcohol, signal initiation into adulthood for
young people in various cultures. The quinceañera, however, may feature additional elements.... The
brindis, or toast, the first waltz often danced with the father, and a number of other aspects of the
celebration also occur at weddings, yet there are some ritual actions particular to the quinceañera.
During the reception, when the emcee announces that the young woman will now change from flats to
high heels, or announces that it is time for the entrega de la ultima muneca, those in attendance clap
and gather around for the spectacle.... (She) cradles the doll as if it were a baby. This...action perhaps
shows that, more than a sign of her last doll, the signifier stands for her new capacity to be a mother.
These symbolic acts clearly mark a change in the status of the young woman.... The dress, the jewlry,
the doll, and the shoes are icons of her new secular status as a woman in society, while the Virgen de
Guadalupe medal and the libro y rosario signal her new status in a religious sense.
Written by Norma E. Cantú, in the article
"Chicana Life-Cycle Rituals," published in the book Chicana
Traditions: Continuity and Change, edited by Norma E. Cantú and Olga Nájera-Ramirez. University of
Illinois Press, 2002.
Other writings on the quinceañera mentioned
here are: Karen Mary Dávalos's article: "La Quinceañera:
Making Gender and Ethnic Identities," Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies 16 (2-3): 101-27, 1996;
Angela Erevia also wrote three booklets about the quinceañera in San Antonio Texas.