Nationality: Mexican American
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/15/2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish
Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major. He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. His family is from Mexico but he has lived in Southern California for nearly all of his life.
Context: I was talking to Fabian about Mexican stories and folklore. He started mentioning how there are several important festivals/traditions one goes through in traditional Mexican culture, one of them being the quinceañera festival. He then detailed his experiences going to close family and friends’ festivals throughout his life.
Item: “It’s a coming of age kind of thing for girls. The way they work is there’s a royal core that is usually made of, uh, direct blood relatives (female and male) and also really close female and male friends. There’s a chambelan which is the quinceañera’s escort which is either the boyfriend or girlfriend if they have one, or a close male relative or a really close male friend. This is the quinceañera’s main escort for the night. So, uh, it all starts off with a dance. The dance varies, but the entire core people perform this choreographed dance that they do. Once they are done, then the main guy and the quinceañera girl have a solo dance in the middle. This is a little more elaborate and involves just those two. It’s usually a waltz. And then, um, the guy gives the girl to her dad and there’s a father-daughter dance. And then, after that, like, there’s just kind of eating and kind of a regular party. The main difference between celebrations comes from the type of dance that is performed at the beginning.”
Analysis: The quinceañera party helps celebrate a woman’s coming-of-age and sexual maturity. The order of events in Fabian’s recounting parallels the path of the girl thus-far in her life. In the beginning, all the close friends and family are involved in a special dance, showing how the girl has thus far been raised and been intimately connected with her close friends and family. Then, the girl is given to the special chambelan who gets to dance with the girl, representing how the girl will move on from her childhood familial upbringing and find a suitable mate in society. The subsequent father-daughter dance is an homage to the fact that the original man in her life for the past fifteen years has been her father. This dance represents the fact that the father will continue to respect his daughter (but shifting from treating her as a little girl to treating her as a woman). This celebration is a very important event in Mexican and Hispanic culture, and traditionally is maintained even for families that have moved to the United States.
In the Mexican tradition, the most important element of the quinceañera is a Thanksgiving mass that commences the celebration. After this mass, the girl enters the banquet hall or wherever the celebration is being held. Typically, the girl was not able to dance in public before the age of 15, so the dance with the chambelan is the girl’s first public dance. Therefore, this event would be very important in the girl’s life and something that girls look forward to for months or even years prior.
This tradition has many parallels to the American tradition of a Sweet 16 party. They both celebrate the coming of age of girls (marking the transition from child to woman). Quinceañera’s, as written above, are elaborate celebrations held in banquet halls, and can be extremely formal and has a relatively set progression. The sweet 16, a celebration of a young girl’s virginity, varies much more. Although some folks make it a formal celebration, many times it is a more informal house party or get-together of close family friends and relatives. At its core, the variations in sweet 16’s shows the diversity in American culture, while the relative rigidity of the quinceañera shows the more homogeneous Mexican culture (highly tied to Catholicism).