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Young Latinas Mark Transition into Adulthood with Church Blessings, Parties and Hefty Debt

LatinaLista — The “Coming of Age” of young Latina girls has always been a big deal in Latino families. Now, it’s also big business.
Known as a Quinceañera, the celebration marking the transition of a young girl into womanhood ranges from the simple backyard barbecue to the ultra lavish, catered dinner at an upscale ballroom.

Yet, as with all customs that are brought to the United States, the original intent of the celebration has been lost amid the preparations for THE  day which seem to be all about: the Dress, the Dance, the Dinner.
The traditional Mass and blessings from the church pastor, which used to be the heart of the day, has been supplanted and relegated to almost an afterthought.
Yet, that wasn’t the way it used to be.

In Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA by the prolific Dominican-American author Julia Alvarez, readers are not only reminded of the history of the Quinceañera but are shown how much the custom has been re-interpreted by today’s Latino families.
Alvarez travels the country to meet girls who are in different stages of preparing for their special day. What she discovers is both disturbing and encouraging.
She learns that families who already are delicately balancing on the brink of poverty don’t think twice about spending thousands of dollars on their daughters’ Quinceañeras.
Yet, she also gleans that young girls who prepare for their Quinceañeras alongside their mothers credit the tradition for bringing the women closer together.

Julia Alvarez discusses how she came to write Quinceañera and what she hopes can be learned from it.
The rampant consumerism that has spun off from the cultural tradition cannot be ignored. Alvarez cites the rise in department stores and Expos that sell all the trappings needed to put on a stylish Quinceañera, special packages for girls and their families to enjoy her special day at resorts like Disneyland and even cruises tailored for Quinceañera parties.
But Alvarez was also able to uncover how some organizations and community leaders are using the popularity of the tradition to entice young Latinas to stay in school, not get pregnant and pursue higher goals that last a lifetime rather than a single day.
What Alvarez learns and shares within the pages of her book serves as both a primer and a wake-up call for any family who dreams of giving their daughter a Quinceañera that is not only memorable but forever special.

Quinceañeras are evolving and today in the Southwest it’s not uncommon to see a troupe of boy dancers perform choreographed dances just for the special day — with and without the Quinceañera.

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