Ahh, the passing of time. What better way to thrust a tween into adulthood than to do it in style? There lives a tradition among Latin families where preteen girls have a birthday celebration so large, so grotesquely flashy that you can scarcely believe the birthday girl is only turning fifteen.
Traditionally, this celebration is a representation of the birthday girl’s transition to womanhood. She is presented with high heels, a tiara, and she usually gives a speech. People lift her up during a choreographed number, she waltzes with almost every male cousin, and basically this party is just totally outrageous.
And I had one.
I don’t know when it was decided, but sometime, somehow, it was. I was asked if I wanted one (you know- “asked”) and the rest is history.
In the olden days, a quince was a huge deal, but it wasalso very sentimental. The ‘Quinceañera girl’ was, essentially, preparing for womanhood. It was a religious as well as
deeply personal experience for anyone involved.
Today, it is more of a “My Sweet Sixteen” experience (check out this multi-million-dollar quince). Everyone included in the Quinceañera’s entourage will have take dance classes in order to learn the choreographed waltzes, the cake will need its own zip code, and there will be hundreds of guests in attendance at a glamorous ball-room, or other venue. For those of you that can’t get enough of reality t.v., here’s something new to add to your binge-list. Below is a clip from a show called “My Dream Quinceañera”:
My quince was a little less traditional, but not quite on the level of today’s standards. There were no choreographed dances for my entourage (I didn’t have one), giant cake, or shoe ceremony. Yet, I was woken up at the crack of dawn, shuffled from house to house, hairdresser to nail technician, all to make sure I looked the part. I came out with tightly wound, tiara adorned, spiral curled hair, and makeup meant for a woman three times my age. I was a Quinceañera girl.
But I didn’t feel like one.
I felt very out of place, like I was participating in a tradition that was not my own. I didn’t feel that I deserved the praise of being Quinceañera, because I had put so little effort into
connecting with that side of my culture. While my entire family attended my quince and danced around the ball room, and took pictures with me- I felt the love I didn’t think I deserved. I was surrounded by Cubans and I felt like a white girl.
I was embarrassed, as many fifteen year olds before me have been. But I felt it on a deeper level, a level where my insecurities lived. For months after my quince I dealt with crushing inner-guilt every time I remembered my party. Did I really need that huge celebration? Did anyone actually want to be there? Was I forcing myself onto a culture that didn’t want me? These thoughts plagued me.
Seven years later, I look back on this day as a priceless moment in my life. I am so glad I had a quince and was able to be a part of a tradition that so few girls of my generation participate in. I recognize now that the guilt I felt was not a product of an unaccepting culture, but of my inability to accept it.
Although the quince was embarrassing at the time (I was presented on a stage, revealed from behind a curtain and waltzed with several cousins for what seemed like an eternity); I now realize that, although my quince by no means transformed me into an adult, it did succeed in revealing more of the mystery of my Cuban culture to me- whether I knew I wanted it or not.
Here are some extremely awkward photos of me at my Quinceañera, for your enjoyment: