One of the most deep-rooted traditions for Hispanic girls is the quinceañera, the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday.
Many of the rituals of the coming-of-age celebration celebration are based on the debutant balls celebrated in 19th century Europe: the Catholic mass, the coronation, the entourage of maids of honor and boys honor guard, the first waltz, the toast, the offering of flowers to the Virgin, the last doll and the dance of roses. Quinceañeras also have some similarities to the initiation rites of young girls and boys in pre-Columbian cultures.
In Austin, families are finding ways to modernize and individualize today’s quinceañeras.
According to Steve Valdez, who has witnessed hundreds of quinceañera parties as a photographer and wrote the book “Quinceañera Planner,” the tradition of parents presenting their daughters to society continues in Texas but has had three main changes: the parents commonly are divorced, more than half of the quinceañera celebrations omit the Mass and the quinceañera’s pastel color dress has been replaced by more extravagant colors and styles.
Today the favorite colors selected by the modern girls are magenta and turquoise, but traditional pink is still popular. Arturo Espinosa, the owner of the quinceañera dress boutique Darling says the dress has a special meaning because it symbolizes the entire family’s dream of seeing the girl become a woman. Dresses range from $600 to $2,000.
Yulisa García, a 15-year-old student at Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, selected a $700 magenta dress and wore a hat and boots to give her day a Texan flavor. The 350-guest party was at the Wyndham Garden in Austin and people traveled from Texas, Washington, D.C., Louisiana, México and El Salvador, where her parents were born.
It took nearly two years to plan Yulisa’s quinceañera party and it cost $25,000, but it was a worthwhile investment for her family. The party was a project that unified the family, says her mother, Verónica García.
Yulisa says she cherishes the memories of the party. “Ever since I was a little girl I longed for quinceañera party. You only turn 15 once in your life and I preferred seeing my family reunited than getting a car, for example,” she says.
Organizing the event can be a major challenge and a financial commitment. Families plan and pay for church arrangements, the dress and accessories, the party including the banquet hall, food, invitations, photographers, musicians and a choreographer.
Because the cost of having a party is so high, many families opt for giving their daughters a car or a trip. Disney offers special packages at its amusement parks and cruises where the young woman can celebrate with her favorite princess and prince characters. Some travel agencies in some Mexican cities specialize in quinceañera group trips.
But not all families want to spend a small fortune or can afford the cost of a party or a trip.
Valdez says that not having the financial means shouldn’t be an obstacle. The photographer and author from San Antonio estimates that a party can cost between $4,000 and $10,000, but could cost much less. He celebrated his daughter’s 15th birthday by buying her a nice, but simple dress; they attended regular Mass with their close family and then they went to a restaurant that had mariachis playing.
‘The dress, the crown and the limo are not necessary to celebrate this coming-of-age occasion,” Valdez says.
The purpose of the quinceañera is changing. There is no longer a need to introduce daughters to society or to assist them in the search for a husband as it was once was when a 15 year old was ready for marriage.
“The sense of spirituality should be the most important thing, thanking God for this life,” Valdez says.
Christian González, the director of communications at the Austin Diocese, says it’s essential to introduce the young woman to the community parish as an adult and for her to receive a blessing.
But to receive this blessing you need to fulfill certain requirements. At St. Ignatius Martyr Church on Oltorf Street and South Congress Avenue, the parents must be parishioners for at least six months prior to the event and the young woman turning 15 must be an active member of the church youth group for at least a year and must have been confirmed.
Édgar Ramírez, director of Hispanic ministries at the Austin Diocese, asks the community to remember the religious origins of this celebration and not to forget the importance of the mass by making the reservation with plenty advance notice and according to the established requirements.
The cost of the quinceañera Mass service is $350, plus $275 for the singer and the organ player, but the cost can be split if there are more than one quinceañeras celebrating the Mass.
Even though there aren’t any records as to the number of quinceañera masses officiated at Austin Catholic Church, Ramirez believes the number has decreased as celebrations geared to consumerism have increased.
“It seems that the celebration is now an eccentric economic display,” Ramirez says.
But for families like the Garcías the celebration represents more than their daughter’s dream and the money they spent, it becomes a family reunion.
“Seeing my family gathered on such special occasion meant a lot to me,” Yulisa says.