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Home > Research > Folklife > Quinces/Quinceañera
A week before the celebration, la Quinceañera, Lilian, poses under a trelis at Cypress Grove Park

Hispanic girls from Latin America, Central America, the Hispanic Caribbean and Mexico as well as the U.S. often participate in a rite of passage when they turn fifteen years old. The quinces or quinceañera celebration is a public presentation of the girl to society that can be compared to the bourgeois tradition of the coming out ball, also in the manner of the Southern debutante cotillons. Families of meager means who wanted to provide their daughters with a chance of bettering her station/status, prepared celebrations in accordance to their financial abilities. Most girls were and continue to be, presented to the community at a church service, usually wearing an elaborate white or pink dress. A celebration of food, family and friends often follows.

In the U.S. many Latino immigrants continue this tradition but also expanded upon the simple celebration of a young girl's coming of age to include everything from a court of fifteen couples--young men and women, all outfitted with formal wear and catered dinners in grand hotel ballrooms, to highly choreographed shows with costume changes and elaborate props. Many immigrants plan ostentatious parties in order to confirm their social standing, or reflect one they hope to achieve. In Florida, the first large parties were popular during the mid 1970's when post-Castro Cubans in Miami had been in the US long enough to establish themselves financially and politically. The tradition died down in the l980's and 90's when many girls opted for quinceañera cruises, trips abroad, jewelry and/or cars in lieu of big parties.

Lilian, her escort and her whole court the night of the quinces fiesta

At the turn of the century, the tradition was reinvigorated in South Florida and especially Central Florida though the celebrations in the Orlando area were more modest reflecting the social economic status of Latino/as in the area. Each cultural group has its own traditions within the traditions. For example, celebrations of quinces in Puerto Rican families often include the quinceañera walking into the hall wearing flat shoes and unadorned so that her parents can then place a tiara on her head and high-heeled shoes on her feet to symbolize her maturity as a young woman. Many Puerto Rican quinceañeras hold a doll and then pass it along to a younger sister to show that she is leaving childish things behind. Flowers are a big part of most quinces and quinceañera celebrations. Girls receive flowers from friends, family members or her court and she often gives the flowers in gratitude to her mother or to older women in her family such as her grandmothers, aunts or older cousins.

Lili and her escort in the merengue tunnel

Almost all quinces celebrations include the dancing of a waltz with the girl's father, sometimes the dance is interrupted by a young man who takes over as the quinceañera's dance partner. Speeches and tributes are also a common part of the celebration though sometimes a Master or Mistress of Ceremony reads from a prepared one about the quinceañera; sometimes her parents speak on her behalf. Usually the quinceañera herself gets a chance to make a brief statement thanking everyone involved in her party and in her life. Some quinceañeras perform solos either singing, dancing or playing of an instrument but more often there are dance numbers performed with friends and family (or her court with as few as three couples up to fifteen couples). The courts often dance to waltzes, boleros, salsa/son, and merengue but also, more recently, bachata, reggaeton or hip hop music.

Overall, the quinces/quinceañera celebration is a time for the young woman being honored to shine. Some lucky girls do just that and get to have a great time too.

Learn more about Latin-American and Spanish traditions in Central Florida:

 

-Cecilia Rodriguez Milanes

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