Maraya Rivera, a month away from her 15th birthday, knows the exact date she decided to break with family tradition.
I had been to some of my friends quinces, and I thought to myself, I want a quince, a real quince, she recalls. I want to have a long dress and my own party where I can pick my own music.
It didnt matter that her mother and her mothers mother had never hosted one. Hers would be a big celebration, with fancy flower centerpieces and a DJ spinning her favorite tunes.
Across town, Maria Chouza spent a good part of the past year planning her daughter Samanthas quince celebration, held Saturday at the Renaissance Banquet Hall in Miami. Back in the day, Chouza, now 38, thought turning 15 meant fewer restrictions not a big birthday bash. But for Samantha, a ninth-grader at Youth Womens Preparatory Academy in Miami, it was all about the party.
Its a tradition that I wanted to experience, Samantha says. Its about celebrating with your family.
For Hispanic girls everywhere, the centuries-old tradition of a quinceañera is still alive and well, whether its at a lavish banquet hall or on the familys backyard patio. In fact, these coming-of-age parties have become increasingly popular in the United States as a result of the growing Latino population and a couple of reality TV shows that focused on this romantic rite of passage.
Ive heard people say they are more important than a wedding because a quince is all about the girl and just about the girl, says Silvio Herrera, who, as a comparative sociology graduate student at Florida International University, completed a thesis on the tradition. That may be especially true in Miami because of the influence of Hispanics.
Herrera, who was born and raised in Miami, spent many a weekend going to friends quince parties, including those of his two older sisters. I dont think its a tradition that is ever going to disappear, he adds. It may be expressed in other ways, maybe interpreted in a more modern fashion, but this is something that is uniquely ours and will stay that way.
Experts believe the modern quinceañera traces its roots to Aztec and Mayan initiation rites, but the origins are obscure and there is no hard evidence that a girls 15th birthday coincided with the age of marriageability in those cultures.
We cant draw a straight line that says this started because of this particular ritual from this particular culture at this particular time, says Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Miami who has lectured extensively on the subject.
Somewhere, somehow these native American traditions met with European court life and soon prominent families in colonial Latin America were introducing their daughters to society in debutante balls. You can still see vestiges of these colonial customs in some of the party rituals the father-daughter waltz, the girls tiara and long gown, her entourage of damas (ladies) and chambelanes (escorts).
In Cuba, the lavishness of a girls quince depended on her familys economic standing. During his research, Herrera found that parties on the island ran the spectrum, from a sumptuous ball at the Havana Yacht Club to a simple brindis (toast) in the familys living room. In Cuba, you didnt have those over-the-top quinces by people who couldnt always afford them, Herrera says.