Fifteen and Anxious: Why Quinceañeras are Opting Out of Parties and How It’s Affecting Their Family
For many, quinceañera parties are their moment to shine, wear a beautiful ballgown and dance to Chayanne’s “Tiempo de Vals” with their dad.
However, there are many girls who, when they turn 15, find themselves caught between the obligation to follow the traditions of yesteryear and the almost visceral urge to break with them.
Along with baptisms and first communions, one of the most common Latino traditions is the quinceañera. This celebration is very popular in Latino families as it symbolizes a young girl’s transition to “adulthood.”
A tradition with controversial connotations
The celebration of a quinceañera is a tradition that ritualizes the family and social transitions between two stages of female life, explains researcher Françoise Lestage.
This is done by “affirming and reinforcing the place of women in gender relations and intergenerational relationships.”
In her research, Lestage surveyed Mexican teenage girls from various high schools in Tijuana and Mexican-American adolescent girls from multiple high schools in United States. border cities in California.
Lestage found that, on both sides of the border, there were many similarities in the quinceañera festivities.
Many of the interviewees on the U.S. side claim it is heritage. For the young women in Tijuana, it is tradition. The latter, in particular, show “a deeper commitment or a more violent rejection.”
“The discourses of the adolescent girls in the survey let one imagine heterogeneous migrant families with varied family values and traditions that weigh differently on the young women,” Lestage writes.
Interestingly. the quinceañera is the product of syncretism between Aztec, Mayan, or Quechua customs and the 1930s European high society debutante balls tradition.
The first documents of quinceañera parties date back to the 1940s, in the diaries of young people in Guadalajara, and are thought to be French-influenced celebrations in the times of Porfirio Díaz.
Now, after several waves of feminist revolution, why are Quinceañeras still celebrated?
Mother-daughter diatribes and the concern to ‘show off the skin’
According to research from the University of California, the quinceañera ends up being a scene of tension between Latina mothers and daughters.
While daughters expect the rules regarding social activities to be less strict, mothers maintain their intention to continue exercising control, especially in social, school and domestic activities.
So, what happens when a Latina daughter simply wants to skip the ritual?
Well, anxiety might kick in.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anxiety among adolescents rose from 36% to 57% in the last decade. Situations of social distress, such as being the center of attention, are the most marked.
“I don’t think mothers should pressure their daughters to have a Quinceañera because I feel like a lot of girls just deal with anxiety and insecurities,” Carolina Herrera, a 15-year-old who just had her quince, told mitú. “Some girls don’t like showing off their skin because their arms are revealing… sometimes girls don’t like to wear makeup or dress a certain way in a big poofy dress that’s gonna be uncomfortable.”
Felix Vazquez, a quinceañera planner and owner of JR’s CREATIONS, understands that this often crosses the minds of young girls.
“I have seen a few quinceañeras feel insecure about their physical appearance since they are the center of attention in these situations,” he told mitú. “Depending on the number of family and friends attending, they are the center of attention and get photographed and videographed through the whole event and posted instantly on social media.”
Ballgowns, tiaras and an anxiety-inducing entrance
“I have also seen with quinceañeras and their wardrobe that this is probably the first time they are wearing a ballgown,” Vazquez explains. “So most of the time, they are pulling their tops up because they are not used to ‘showing’ much skin.”
Adding, “Most ballgowns are either strapless, spaghetti strap, or off the shoulder. Very rarely will I see a quinceañera’s ball gown that has sleeves. Nevertheless, once they are all done up and in their ball gowns, we assure them and they feel like a princess.”
Despite her crippling anxiety and insecurities, Carolina Herrera just celebrated her 15th birthday. Her decision was not for her own pleasure, but to fulfill the dream of her late grandmother, who had always wanted to see her in her dress.
Although her grandmother passed away months before her party, it compelled Herrera to hold the celebration “out of love for her family.” The young woman recalls feeling nervous during the extravagant party, where she even had to put on her AirPods to calm her anxiety.
Saying anything to her mother was not an option, as she told her to “shrug it off” and enjoy “that once-in-a-lifetime moment.”
Refusing to celebrate a quinceañera as an act of self-preservation
For Herrera, silence was not the best option. The young woman recommends other Latinas “to speak out.”
“I want to advise young Latinas to just do what they feel is best for them. Don’t do it for anybody else,” she said. “Do it for yourself, and if your mom can’t accept that, then try to make her accept it. Let her know how you’re feeling. It’s normal to feel anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with anxiety.”
Herrera remembers feeling uneasy during the celebration.
“My grandma wouldn’t have wanted me to feel like this,” she recalls thinking during her party. “She’d want me to be happy about it.”
For other young women, like Sarah Renteria, a big party wasn’t even up for discussion.
The young woman opted out of the event from the beginning and knew her mother wouldn’t even consider one. Since she fears loud noises and suffers from social anxiety, the Mexican manicurist knew it would not be a pleasant circumstance.
“I’m actually glad I didn’t have a Quinceañera. I personally think I just wouldn’t have enjoyed it,” Rentería told mitú. “In my perspective, it would have been a waste of money for our family.”
However, the young woman believes she could say no because she is a second-generation Latina.
“I don’t come from a first-generation Mexican family. I come from a second generation. So I feel like my parents already grew up with that culture of being forced to do everything just because it’s been done before by their parents,” she said. “But since I didn’t grow up with that, I grew up having more opportunities.”
For Latinas who are thinking of not having a party, Renteria says another way to commemorate the milestone is by having an alternative gift: “You know what I really wanted? I wanted a new bed set, and you know what I got? I got a new bed set!” she laughed.
Despite the privilege she knows she has, Renteria advises mothers to be attentive to their daughters’ real emotions.
For many quinceañera mothers, their daughter’s wishes come first
Few people consider the possibility that the Latina mother feels under the same social pressure to celebrate their daughter’s quinceañera.
For Renteria’s mother, Maria, not pushing her daughter’s Quinceañera tradition earned her backlash.
“People would ask ‘why not? Why not something small? We could help you,'” she recalls. “Okay, it’s not about the financial aspect of it. It’s what she wants, you know. I’m listening to my girl. I’m not listening to other voices or other opinions. It’s not about what they want. But yes, I did get backlash.”
Maria Renteria clearly remembers her quinceañera — in fact, she remembers how much she didn’t want it. Her mother was single and didn’t have the money to throw the party. With help from family, the party finally took place, and Maria describes it as “a special moment in our culture.”
However, she respects her daughter’s decision and recognizes the difference between insisting and forcing.
“Sometimes, you know, with a little push, you can get them to have a party, even if it’s something smaller with the family,” she said. “A mom should push just to get their daughter out of their shell. But again, it goes back to understanding what our girls want.”
Overall, she recommends showing compassion to your daughter.
“I say just love their daughters,” she told mitú. “People are always going to talk. Everyone always has an opinion, whether it’s good or bad. So as long as both mom and daughter are happy with whatever they decide to do, nothing else matters.”
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