National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated annually from September 15 to October 15 to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans to American history and culture. Hispanic Americans are proud of their Latin roots and the lives they have built for themselves and their families in the United States. Embracing the new and celebrating the old is a way of life for Latin immigrant communities, but there are certain traditions that are perfect in their original state and can neither be forgotten nor amended. One such tradition is celebrating young womens’ quinceanera — which takes place when a young woman turns fifteen and transitions from childhood to womanhood.
Carolina Mascarín moved to Charleston in 2003. She’s originally from Colombia, but has become Charleston’s go-to quinceanera photographer and, therefore, a bit of an expert on the topic of these important celebrations. While quinceaneras are not common in her country of origin, Mascarín has forged relationships with Charleston’s Mexican and Central American communities, learning about the importance of these celebrations, what they mean for the parents and what they mean for the teens being celebrated.
“Quinceaneras are such an important tradition to these communities that families spend six to 12 months planning their celebrations, many times along with thousands upon thousands of dollars,” she noted.
According to Mascarín, families from all walks of life share the tradition of celebrating their daughters’ quinceanera, and the parties can be very elaborate, many times sparing no expense for the special day.
“In some cases, mothers celebrate their daughters and themselves during these events, having come from humble beginnings where the scope of these celebrations was but a dream. Now, they are able to treat their daughters with the help of padrinos who help sponsor the event,” she explained, adding that padrinos are friends and family that are either asked to contribute or offer to cover specific costs like flowers, photography, accessories and even high-ticket items like renting the hall and catering the soirée.
Typical quinceanera accessories include a crown, a necklace, shoes and more. Each accessory is part of a special tradition with important significance. One of many beloved traditions is the zapatillas portion of the celebration, when the young woman changes from her flat shoes to shoes with heels, marking the moment when she leaves childhood behind. Similarly, la ultima muñeca allows the young woman to give her last baby doll to a young girl, often a younger sister or cousin, as she looks forward to her future.
Maritza Jon recently celebrated her quinceanera with her mother, Edith Jon, who worked tirelessly to make her daughter’s dreams come true. When asked her favorite part of the process, Maritza shared it was the opportunity to address her friends and family during the event. Meanwhile, the stand-out for her mother was seeing her daughter dressed in her dream gown. Both are grateful to the padrinos and almost 450 guests that attended the important milestone in Maritza’s life.
Quinceanera celebrations continue to evolve with technology, social media and even pandemics, but the traditions of dancing with parents and padrinos; choreographed dances with la corte; or 15 of the quinceañera’s closest friends; traditional music and dress; national dishes; and merrymaking will forever be a part of many families’ traditions. These moments and memories connect Latin Americans to their ancestral traditions, while laying down local roots and celebrating what lies ahead.