A quinceañera (also known as a “fiesta de quince,” “fifteen,” “quince años,” or “quince”) is a coming-of-age tradition for a young woman who is turning fifteen (also called “the quinceañera”). Quinceañera events are often characterized as formal, elaborately planned, and expensive. And while many affairs fit this description, there are also small-scale quinceañeras that are organized over a short span of time, hosted by working- and middle-class individuals and households in their homes. In spite of broad variation in quinceañera events (e.g., by region and ethnicity), most include a special Mass for the celebrant (also called “la quinceañera”), followed by a cotillion-like party attended by immediate and extended relatives, along with fictive kin, such as the quinceañera’s godparents, or padrinos, and a “court” (composed of young men, or chambelanes, and young women, or damas), who perform with the quinceañera during a choreographed dance (traditionally a group waltz, or vals), and accompany her during her formal presentation to guests as a “señorita,” or young lady. No reliable figures exist that document how extensively quinceañeras have been, and are, observed; however, they are recognized as commonly celebrated throughout Latin America, as well as by families of Latino descent outside of Latin America. In the United States, the quinceañera has evolved from a communal folk ritual and become widespread enough to spawn the creation of various manuals, services, and businesses that help celebrants and their families prepare for them. Since the mid-1990s, quinceañeras have gained greater visibility as subjects in American television programs, Films, and academic studies. And, while some Latinas choose to celebrate “Sweet Sixteens” or to eschew coming-of-age parties altogether, today, the quinceañera tradition has also been adapted to commemorate other milestone occasions for Latinos (e.g., “quinceañeros” for young adult males who are coming of age, and “cincuentañeras” for Latinas’ 50th birthdays).
The body of peer-reviewed research on quinceañeras is still relatively new and very small. Two of the earliest general overviews of quinceañeras are Cantú 1999 and Davalos 1996. Although not peer-reviewed scholarship, Alvarez 2007 is regarded as a useful journalistic-like overview of more recent quinceañera celebrations. And Stavans 2010 contains several essays that explore quinceañeras as religious rituals. In addition to including one of the most current reviews of literature on the quinceañera tradition, Rodriguez 2013 postulates that the dearth of research on the quinceañera tradition is related to longstanding cultural and academic biases discouraging the thoughtful examination of female activities and the private sphere.
Alvarez, Julia. Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. New York: Viking, 2007.
Alvarez weaves journalistic observations of a quinceañera in Queens, interviews with other celebrants, and her own personal memories to offer one of the most accessible, comprehensive depictions of quinceañeras in the United States.
Cantú, Norma Elia. “La Quinceañera: Towards an Ethnographic Analysis of a Life Cycle Ritual.” Southern Folklore 56.1 (1999): 73–101.
One of the first studies to identify and describe in detail the various elements and structure of quinceañera rituals in the United States.
Cantú, Norma Elia. “Chicana Life-Cycle Rituals.” In Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change. Edited by Norma Elia Cantú and Olga Nájera-Ramírez, 15–34. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002.
This is one chapter in the first anthology devoted exclusively to studies of Chicana folklore written by Chicana scholars, notably contributing to scholarship on quinceañeras by describing how the quinceañera tradition has been adapted by other Chicanas to commemorate other milestone moments in their lives. For example, Cantú describes how women turning fifty have invented the cincuentañera.
Cantú, Norma. “La Quinceañera: A Coming of Age Ritual in Latino Communities.” In Library of Congress: Webcasts. Compiled by David Mao, Librarian. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 2006.
This public lecture was delivered by Norma Elia Cantú as part of the Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series, organized for the US Library of Congress by the American Folklife Center. Cantú identifies and describes essential elements of traditional quinceañeras, based on her research on Texas quinceañeras, and provides an overview of the possible origins of the quinceañera tradition, as well as its social significance for Chicano communities.
Davalos, Karen Mary. “La Quinceanera: Making Gender and Ethnic Identities.” Frontiers 16 (1996): 101–127.
This article helped establish the usefulness of studying US quinceañeras to understand Mexican Americans’ lived experiences. Davalos argues that Church and media discourse portray the quinceañera as a tradition requiring protection from outside change, reflecting an understanding of mexicano culture as homogeneous and distinct from American culture. Davalos also argues that Mexican Americans’ refusal to generalize quinceañeras reflects the ongoing, complicated negotiation of mexicanos’ Mexican and American identities in the United States.
Deiter, Kristen. “From Church Blessing to Quinceañera Barbie®: America as ‘Spiritual Benefactor’ in La Quinceañera.” Christian Scholar’s Review 32 (2002): 31–48.
Deiter argues that the quinceañera’s uncertain origins have opened it up to tremendous influence by the American Catholic Church and popular culture, which act as cultural and spiritual “benefactors,” reshaping the quinceañera and Mexican American culture for their own benefit. Popular culture commercializes the rite and fuses it with traditional American weddings, debutantes, and Sweet Sixteen celebrations, while the Church downplays female sexuality in the rite, and emphasizes how it is aligned with Catholic teachings.
Gonzalez, Rachel Valentina. “Dreaming in Taffeta: Imagining an American Quinceañera.” PhD diss., Indiana University at Bloomington, 2014.
This San Francisco-based dissertation was produced by Gonzalez while she was a doctoral candidate in folklore and ethnomusicology. Gonzalez problematizes oversimplified critiques of quinceañeras, and employs folkloristic, anthropological, and sociolinguistic methods to illustrate how these celebrations help Latinas assert their identities in visual, material, and public ways, and reflect the cultural coming-of-age of the wider American Latino community.
Horowitz, Ruth. “The Power of Ritual in a Chicano Community.” Marriage & Family Review 19.3–4 (1993): 257–280.
Horowitz explores the quinceañera tradition as it is celebrated by Chicanos in Chicago. She observes that it includes both religious and secular components, and argues that its secular elements have expanded in the United States, especially due to organizers’ desires to demonstrate connections with a past Mexico, and in part because of their experiences of marginality and pressure to assimilate in the United States.
Lopez, Adriana V. Quinceañeras: 15 relatos de coronas, tafetán, tíos borrachos y más. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.
In the Quinceañeras’ “Introduction,” Editor Adriana V. Lopez explains that she deliberately tried to gather Spanish-language stories representing diverse generations, sexual orientations, social classes, and geographical locations for this anthology, in order to convey the diversity, humor—the title is translated as “Quinceañeras: 15 Tales of Crowns, Taffeta, Drunk Uncles, and More”—and drama of the quinceañera tradition, and Latino coming of age.
Marling, Karal Ann. “Quinceañera Debutante: Rites and Regalia of American Debdom.” In Quinceañera. Edited by Ilan Stavans, 3–6. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.
In this brief opening chapter of Ilan Stavans’ edited volume Quinceañera, University of Minnesota art historian and “American debdom” expert Karal Ann Marling briefly describes the quinceañera tradition (especially its secular components), explains regional and ethnic differences in how quinceañeras are celebrated throughout the United States, and highlights the similarities and differences between quinceañeras and other debutante rituals, like African American debutante celebrations, weddings, and pageants.
Rodriguez, Evelyn Ibatan. Celebrating Debutantes and Quinceañeras: Coming of Age in American Ethnic Communities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013.
An ethnographic study comparing Mexican American quinceañeras to Filipino American debutantes. Popular representations of quinceañeras are used to demonstrate an “ideal type” quinceañera celebration; real-life events are elaborated upon. Subsequent chapters explain how quinceañeras help individuals and families manage social networks, ritualistically prepare girls for adulthood, express nonstandard cultural identities, and challenge and adapt to US culture, while forging new understandings of what it means to be “Mexican” and “American.”
Stavans, Ilan. Quinceañera. The Ilan Stavans Library of Latino Civilization. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.
This is the first scholarly English-language anthology to explore quinceañeras in the United States, and includes previously published pieces on quinceañeras. Several essays in the collection explore how quinceañeras communicate gender and race identities, and help construct Latino identities in local communities. This anthology is part of The Ilan Stavans Library of Latino Civilization book series, “devoted to exploring all facets of Hispanic civilization in the United States.”
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