Turning 15 years old for many Hispanic young girls invites a coming-of-age celebration. From the lavish ball gown dress to the traditional waltz with Dad, many quinceañeras living in South Florida can dig up photos of this special birthday.
We gathered quince memories from locals and members of the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their experiences with The Miami Herald and WLRN. These stories and their quince portraits will be on display in an exhibit during the upcoming Cuba Nostalgia event, which will honor the longtime tradition. We highlighted some of these stories below. Some of them were edited for length and clarity:
Luli McArthur, 49, of Miami Lakes, recalls how her father snuck an invite to her mother’s quince in 1957.
“My mother had just moved into his neighborhood and he fell in love with her the minute he saw her. He heard of her upcoming quinces and somehow finagled an invitation to her huge party. She did not know of him or of the fact that he was at her party that day - let alone that he’d also snuck into a picture. He managed to meet her soon after that and they’ve been inseparable since then - raising a family, moving to Spain and later to Miami, where they’ve been running a business together for the last 35 years. That’s some way to crash a party.”
Isabel Gomez Bassols, 70, of Miami Beach, held her quince in secret in Cuba at the height of the Fidel Castro-led revolution.
“It was December 1958 and we were all living in fear. There were bombs exploding in different parts of Havana and clashes between the military and opposition groups. My quince was in the Habana Hilton. We couldn’t send out invitations for fear of repercussions; we had to go and invite people personally. The man that I danced with couldn’t pick me up at my house. We decided to meet at the hotel. In the party, we forgot about Cuba, the bombings and arrests. During my party, it was wonderful to forget the reality we lived in for a while.”
Angelica Rodriguez, 18, of Miami, exchanged shoes during her ceremony in 2010.
“I had my quinces at Synai Gardens Banquet Hall in Miami. The theme was Mardi Gras because my birthday is in March and I love the bright colors. My mother was not planning to have a big party, but she went to this banquet hall and they made accommodations for us. My cake was the freshest cake I have ever tasted. I had 100 guests, and everyone had a great time. We had the traditional 15 candles by a special member of family and friends. I had the traditional changing of the shoes to symbolize a girl becoming a young lady -- I had silver glitter Converse and changed into little heels. That ceremony was very special to me only because my grandpa got to do that. This was the best party ever. I still see the pictures and wish I could go back to that day. I know my mom worked very hard to give that to me, and I really appreciate and love her for that.”
Cassandra Hernandez, 16, of Pembroke Pines, held her Havana Nights celebration last year.
“My quinces were held at the Don Shula Hotel in Miami Lakes. I had 180 guests and my theme was Havana Nights. The color scheme was black and white with red accents. I did not have a full court, but I had a grand entrance and danced with my father, uncles and cousins. During dinner, we had six Tropicana Showgirls out on a show as if we were all really in a supper club . My party was really special for many reasons. We are a very close family, and my aunts and uncles were the masters of ceremony and introduced all the festivities. My parents presented me with a huge diamond ring. My mom said this was what her father gave her at her quince party and she wanted to continue the tradition. My mom spent two years planning my party to the very last detail. She handmade little cigar boxes with my picture on them and chocolate cigars inside as party favors. She created a special monogram for me that could be found imprinted on the boxes that held the invitations as well as the personalized napkin rings she had made. I have gone to many quinces in the last year and all my friends agree that my party was the one to beat in entertainment, food, decor and ambiance.”