La Quinceañara

By Norma Elia Cantú


All ethnography involves storytelling, and this one, in particular, involves the telling of multiple stories. It is my story as I trace the ritual celebration of a young woman's coming of age in Laredo, Texas, and of my own quinceañera; it is the contemporary young women's stories and their families'; it is the community's story; it is, finally, the story of a tradition that survives and in fact seems to be flourishing even as it constantly changes. My own involvement with life-cycle rituals began years ago as I observed the various baptisms, first communions, quinceañeras, weddings, births, and funerals in my community of Laredo, Texas. What fascinated me as a child and young adult has become an object of study for me as an academic trained not in the formal study of culture but of literature. Armed not so much with the tools of an ethnographer but with those of the literary critic, my aim is to tell the story(ies) and then present a study of the celebration as it is performed along the border. Cognizant as I am of the fact that as Angie Chabran has noted, "the critic does not...escape the influences of the specific context in which s/he operates," I have decided to include my own context into the text of this narrative.2 I do not pretend to offer what Rosaldo would call a "unified master summation" but instead follow his advice and acknowldedge that what I write here is from an insider position (147,19). I write as one who has lived the story and who understands, analyzes and writes about certain community stories from a very defined vantage point.

In this paper I propose an analysis of the quinceañera celebration as it exists at the end of the 20th century as a site of post-modern cultural expression; in the process I also examine the changes that the fiesta has undergone in the last 30 years. Since the fiesta is a living tradition, there have been numerous elements that have been added to the ritual and others that have fallen by the wayside. Therefore, it is useful, indeed necessary, to locate the fiesta as an ever-changing organic performance and not a fixed, homogenous artifact. For this analysis, I focus on the celebration in two towns along the Tamaulipas-Tejas border, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. The differences between the fiesta as celebrated on the northern banks of the Rio Grande and as it is celebrated on the southern banks of the river reveal that the fiesta functions in various and similar ways for the two communities. It is here, in these two neighboring communities, that one finds the more subtle differences, for just a bit farther into the interior of both countries, the celebration maintains somewhat more traditional elements. Yet, celebrations on both sides of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo deploy similar elements even within different cultural discourses. Finally, I would like to propose that the neocolonialism imposed on Chicano/a and other U.S. Latino groups, is most clearly manifested in the cultural celebrations, such as in the quinceañeras, and yet it is at the site of such celebrations that we resist and often succumb to the colonizing power. I begin with a look at the structure of the celebration as a communal and then individual performance, including the padrinos and madrinas, and an analysis of the integral elements of the celebration. I must note that for the observations and analysis I rely on information gathered through informal interviews, pilot questionnaires, and field observations during various celebrations in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo.

A Question of Origins

Although it appears obvious that the origin of the quinceañera lies in a syncretism between the Spanish court dances and the native Mexican (i.e. Aztec) initiation rituals, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest any particular origin. Such "presentations" are unknown in Spain, and even in the sixteenth century the royal presentations were more akin to the U.S. tradition of the modern U.S. cotillion or the presentation balls of particular groups like fraternal organizations or to social events, like debutante balls, where the daughters of the social elites are presented in ostentatious displays of wealth. In Laredo, aside from the Black and White Ball and the Pocahontas Council's presentation ball for the middle class, the George Washington's Birthday Association functions in this capacity for the highest levels of the social echelons, as the daughters of the members of the Society of Martha Washington during their senior year in high school are presented in an elaborate "colonial ball." This is not the place to explore how and why this display exists, suffice it to say that for the majority of the popluation, however, there is no equivalent presentation to society. Yet, the quinceañera is not quite the same as a cotillion or debutante ball, for it includes religious and social elements beyond those of these other purely social events.

The other tradition that supposedly gives birth to the quinceañera, the indigenous initiation ceremony, has all but disappeared for the mestizo population, although it is alive and well among the various native Mexican groups, such as the Huicholes and Mixtecos, in Mexico as well as in the U.S. indigenous populations such as the Mescalero Apache. But, nowhere in indigenous tradition does it include the specific elements as practiced in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo quinceañeras. Karen Mary Dávalos cites various church writings that trace the origin to the indigenous groups in Mexico, mostly Aztec and Mayan(8). Sr. Angela Erevia, MCDP cites the indigenous origin, and delineates the points of comparison between the indigenous "initiation rites at puberty" and the Christian "initiation" (26-31).3 Although it is easy to see a relationship, I find it difficult to trace a direct link between the two. Rites of initiation occur in China, Africa, and of course indigenous groups in the Americas, and in Jewish tradition as well. But we cannot claim that one is an off shoot of any of the others. If anything, the preponderance of Sephardic conversos [Jewish converts to Christianity] settling in the area of northern Mexico might lead to some speculation, that although other Jewish traditions were left behind this one survived in a radically transformed fashion. But, all of these conjectures are ultimately just that, and there is no evidence to suggest a root origin for the tradition. The age of fifteen seems to come from the fact that by law, la edad núbil for young women in Mexico was set at 14 in the 1930s. But, again, this is conjecture; we do not know if the law came after the fact and merely legitimized a custom whereby young women were deemed adults and ready for marriage at age 14. There are a number of cases that seem to indicate that young women were "marriageable" at an earlier age during the last century. Like other young women of her time, my fifteen-year old paternal grandmother married a man 10 years her senior in the late 1800s. But, none of these will give us an answer as to why or where the celebration originated. I rely on the language used in the fiesta as well as the structure to suggest a more European connection. Words taken from royalty or at least the practices of the nobility, like "paje," "damas," "chamberlán," and the elaborate choreographed dance that resembles a seventeenth century court dance, appear to be remnants of earlier celebrations. And yet, I can see how the existing initiation rituals in Native Mexican and Native American tradition may have had bearing on the survival of the tradition among the mestizo propulation as well as in the social circles of more European identified elites. Perhaps the French influence in Mexico reinforced the earlier Spanish practices and introduced words like "chamberlán" for the male escorts to the "ladies." The spread of the tradition among Chicano and immigrant Latino groups in the U.S., however, could be attributed to a strong cultural nationalism. Dávalos notes that for the Mexicanas in Chicago the celebration is often more about reaffirming their culture than about religion or fulfilling purely social needs (11-12). While this may be true for immigrant groups elsewhere in the country, in the Chicano/a community of the borderlands, celebrations tend to function in a different way. Matachines tradition in the region, especially in Laredo, or the Christmas celebrations that include pastorelas [shepherd plays performed around Christmas] and posadas [a dramatized, sung play of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter in Bethlehem], reaffirm culture as they perpetuate traditional fiestas that have often been ongoing since before 1848 when the region is conquered by the United States.4

As in many other Chicano communities of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, Laredo families celebrated the young women's quinceañeras. Norma Zuñiga Benavides tells of her celebration held on February 1, 1941 in her self-published memoir, Holidays and Heartstrings: Recuerdos de la Casa de Miel. The accompanying photograph shows her niece's quinceañera at San Agustin Church during the mass of thanksgiving (37). María de la Luz Rodríguez Cárdenas recalls her quinceañera in 1960 where the priest refused to say a mass claiming it would be too much like a wedding.5 Instead of a mass a rosary was recited at Christ the King Church. My own quinceañera, in January of 1962 did include a mass, a regularly scheduled Sunday mass, in fact, since at the time special masses were a rarity even for weddings at San Luis Rey Church.

Obviously, in Laredo, the tradition has existed for generations. If the George Washington's Birthday celebration dates back to 1895, we can postulate that the quinceañera tradition predates that. Family lore and in some instances church records show the tradition existed in the 1920s. The newspaper social pages from the 1950s supply a record of the fiestas de quince años in the community. Even now, pictures of the young honorees--men and women--appear in the Sunday social section of the Laredo Morning Times. In Nuevo Laredo, the custom of publishing a picture of the honoree in the dailies El Mañana or El Diario also exists. But, as to the question of where the practice originates, I cannot offer a conclusive answer at this time; I submit that the reason quinceañeras exist and survive is that they serve a particular function in the community on an individual and communal level. They reaffirm who we are as a culture and signal the coming of age of a young member of the group; the fiesta signals the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. And, that is why quinceañeras must adhere to prescribed rules of behavior. They must exhibit traditional elements and adhere to a structure whose integrative elements continuously change and yet remain the same.

Along the border, quinceañeras have rules or norms of behavior that have become fundamental elements.6 On a first and very surface level we find the social and religious ritual as an act of, for, and by the community. The fiesta includes a mass of thanksgiving attended by the participants and offered in honor of the young honoree. Another essential element of the celebration is to hold a dance in which the principal participants parade and perform. The dance occurs at the same time and place as the reception where the guests are served a meal. Those in attendance include, the family, immediate and extended, neighbors, and friends. The fiesta, in fact, is celebrated in the arenas where the Chicano community has usually celebrated and where it comes together to celebrate collectively: the church and the dance hall. We shall talk later on of the signifiers of these two essential elements of the fiesta--the mass and the dance. For now, let us talk of the principal participants.


Those who participate in the ritual, one can postulate, comprise concentric circles, at the center of which is the young honoree, a young woman who is, will soon be, or has just turned 15. From the center toward the periphery, we can first place the parents, then the grandparents on the next circle, and then the 14 damas and their chamberláns or escorts, along with the chamberlán who accompanies the honoree.7 Immediately after come the godparents and family members who are involved in the fiesta in some way, and finally, along the periphery we have the rest of the family and the general guests--neighbors, extended family, and friends, business associates or conocidos of the family. Although the celebrant is at the center of the fiesta, the community is an integral part of the celebration. Each padrino, madrina, dama, chamberlán, and invitee functions in a particular fashion during the celebration. The performance would not happen were it not for the willing participation of all involved. The participants of the Corte de Honor [Court of Honor], that is the damas and chamberláns adhere to special behaviors. They must perform ritualized actions both during the mass and during the dance and reception. Of primary importance is the choreographed dance which we will discuss later.

Essential Elements

There are certain elements that appear in almost all fiestas de quinceañera. These elements can be said to be signifiers that carry a semantic meaning in the performance of the ritual. The mass and the dance signify the two social arenas the young woman is being initiated into. Let us take each of them separately and analyze each in order to facilitate our analysis of the fiesta. Since it is generally one seamless event, it is hard to disengage any element from the total performance that the fiesta becomes within the social arena. Although unlikely, it is possible to have a mass and not the dance, but almost never is the reverse true.

Fiestas, whether they be religious or secular, are inherently communal. Even those that are familial such as a birthday party or a baptism exist within a social milieu. The choice of sponsors or padrinos for the baptism and the guest list for the party often extends well beyond the family and into the social realms. While the medieval origins of many religious fiestas for certain saints is rooted in penance as a form of thanksgiving, the modern day celebrations of these same feast days, have become anything but. Instead of deprivation through vigils or fasting, it is more usual to find the fiesta as the occasion for excesses in food and drink as well as for carousing and licentiousness. Right along the religious observations of Holy Week in some of the most austere celebrations in Spain, for example, one finds the all-night parties. The quinceañera is a celebration, a ritual of thanksgiving for life granted, and it marks the transition into adulthood; it happens but once in a person's life. Some see it as a reward for good grades, good behavior, for being a good daughter, as they talk of feeling special, of being appreciated as an adult (interviews, questionnaires). The celebration invariably includes a religious element. Although the quinceañera is not a sacrament, per se, the church in South Texas has moved toward institutionalizing the celebration.8 In this part of the discussion of the fiesta, we will look at the structure of the church celebration. We begin with a discussion of the mass of thanksgiving.

La Misa / The Mass

Although it is now customary that the fiesta be held on the Friday or Saturday closest to the actual birthday, some fiestas are held way before or after due to scheduling or financial problems. Other fiestas are held on the exact birthday. Klariza Ruiz turned 15 on February 18, 1995, but the fiesta was held on April 1, partly due to the fact that that was the only date when both a mass could be said and a place for the reception was available. In earlier times, the mass of thanksgiving was a regularly scheduled Sunday mass and not a special mass. This was the case for my misa de accion de gracias. But nowadays, when the mass on Saturday evening can also fulfill the obligatory Sunday worship, many families choose that as the mass of thanksgiving. Also, in today's more ecumenical times, masses are especially arranged and the church charges a small fee to cover the expenses. In the past, in an attempt to make the tradition less like a wedding, the priest would say a rosary and not a mass to mark the celebration, a practice totally unheard of in today's celebrations. The mass of thanksgiving and site of initiation into adulthood begins the fiesta. The honoree for the first time participates in the sacrament as an adult. In some cases, the sacrament of confirmation is celebrated at the same time, for it signals the spiritual development of the young woman. Sr. Angela Erevia links the sacraments of baptism, communion, and confirmation, in other words life-cycle events, and adds that the quinceañera to the list, although she makes clear that it is not a sacrament as such (28). Dávalos points out that materials published by the Church attempt to situate the celebration within the church liturgical purview, and in Chicago it tries to keep a "pure" tradition by disqualifying any part that cannot be traced back to Mexico or that is too reminiscent of a wedding(10).

The mass begins with the participants' entrance; first come the 14 damas and 14 chamberláns who take the reserved front pews; then the madrina de cojín, usually a young girl, enters carrying the cojín or altar pillow where the honoree will kneel; then the honoree makes her entrance accompanied by her parents, or in some cases alone. Also, as noted of the tradition in Houston by reporter Donatella Lorch, some young women are escorted down the aisle by male escorts "a move," she says, that "is frowned upon by the church which insists that the celebration not resemble a wedding." (C4) The friends, family and, if it is a regularly scheduled mass, various other churchgoers also celebrate the mass. Because for my quinceañera mass I chose not to have a corte de honor, my parents accompanied me in the church, and there were no damas or chamberláns. The regularly scheduled Sunday morning mass, however, was packed with regular churchgoers, our neighbors, friends and family on that chilly morning in early January. It felt as if the whole community celebrated with me. In the pre-Vatican II early 1960s, masses were not said in the evening, and there was not as much freedom as there is now. The aisle seemed interminable, my knees were shaking and I was trying not to hobble, for that day I wore high heels for the first time. After mass, we went home to hot chocolate and reposteria, a kind of pastry that is traditional for the Christmas season. The dinner and dance would take place later, in the evening.

The guide published by Sr. Angela Erevia, includes a sample homily as well as a suggested "Celebration of the Eucharist for Quince Años" (78-108). The priest's homily is a particular talk directed at the young woman and her attendants; it is often especially written for the occasion. As the mass concludes, the young woman and her parents step down from the altar, and the madrina de ramo offers the honoree a nosegay similar to a bride's bouquet. Of course, photographers and videographers, both professional and amateur capture the mass on film. On some occasions, the honoree's godparents--baptism, communion, and confirmation, also enter as part of the group and offer symbols of these sacraments--the baptismal dress, el ropón [child's baptismal dress], the candle, and missal from first communion and maybe even pictures of the celebration of these sacraments. Sr. Angela Erevia's popular publications serve as guides for the liturgical celebration and include prayers, Biblical readings, and even suggested songs and poems that can be incorporated into the liturgy. Quince Años: Celebrating a Tradition -- A Handbook for Parish Teams provides a guide for the workshops and for the classes of instruction many parishes now require of the youth before the celebration of the mass.

Before the mass, practices or rehearsals are held to make sure that everyone knows their role. Just as the choreographer prepares the participants in various ways for the dance, the workshop leaders or team prepare the youth for the mass; usually the young people also go to confession during one of the rehearsals so that they can take communion during the mass.

The church in recent years and in certain locations has negotiated a position for this non-sacramental liturgical celebration by instituting various strategies. One church holds only one annual quinceañera mass for all the members of the parish who turn 15 that year. Another holds classes for the youth involved, and only those who are registered for the classes are allowed to celebrate a quinceañera mass. In many cases it is the priest who decides how his parish will handle the requests for masses: accept anyone, reject those who are not registered and participating members of the parish, follow the traditional ritual, add elements that make it more in keeping with the church's teachings, i.e. add the confirmation sacrament or a reaffirmation of the baptismal vows.

Dávalos whose work explores the role that the church plays in the celebration, as do a number of reporters, points to the fact that in the face of dwindling attendance by youth, many parishes seize the opportunity to recruit and instruct young Catholic men and women. Although her research is mostly centered in the Midwest--Detroit and Chicago--many of her observations also hold true for South Texas. In some cases a particular church, in order to comply with the high number of requests for quinceañera masses and given the limited number of priests, will consolidate all the celebrations into one or two a year, and celebrants are required to attend workshops or to do community work before they can have their quinceañera. But, in spite of such preparation, the mass is sometimes seen as a farce by the young people who often find that the homily is either too long or the priest's words are not grounded in their reality. At Brenda de la Rosa's celebration, the priest at Holy Redeemer Church dwelt on the responsibilities of young adults to the family. The young people, dressed in their tuxedoes and formal gowns, fidgeted and squirmed. At Klariza Ruiz' mass, many of the participants, students at the Catholic high school and therefore used to the ritual, appeared bored and whispered, carrying on conversations even as the priest extolled their good moral qualities and pontificated on the rewards of having pure thoughts and a pure body. His allusions to sexual abstinence seemed lost to the young people who had apparently tuned him out. Like talks at other rites of passage, graduation exercises come to mind, the intended audience seems to be oblivious to the words of wisdom that the much older and supposedly wiser adult is directing towards them

Invariably a member of the court of honor is late to the mass and quietly slips into the pew and into her or his designated slot. The others are tolerant, and although it can be disruptive the entrance of the late-comer is taken in stride. At the conclusion of the mass, walking between her parents and holding the bouquet, the young woman marches down the aisle stopping for the photographer to take photos. Outside, the whole court of honor poses in front of the church for more photographs. Well-wishers gather round and congratulate the family and offer birthday wishes to the honoree as everyone mills around and greets one another before heading to the reception where a dinner and a dance await them. As noted earlier, in the 1960s the practice was to have the mass on Sunday morning and then the dance in the evening, usually in the home of the honoree. I recall attending several older cousins' quinceañeras where this was the practice. Today, there are still some who hold the reception at home, but the more common practice is to hold it in a salón de fiestas. Perhaps this move away from the home for important life-cycle celebrations such as weddings and wakes indicates the more social and less intimate nature of the celebrations. One could also argue that the site for celebrating is also indicative of the social standing of the family within the community. Curiously enough, it is the very poor and the very rich who tend to hold the celebration at home: in the case of the former a public space is prohibitive due to the financial strain on the family of going to a commercial site; in the case of the latter, the private space is prefered due to the affluence implied in a home reception, for it also allows for a display of wealth. The proliferation of commercial sites for the celebration coincides with the move toward celebrating such events as weddings and wakes outside the home. I will deal with the salón a little later, suffice it to say that the location and time of the mass has had implications in the way that the other more social part of the celebration, the dance/reception has evolved.

El Baile / The Dance

Just like the church is often the site for many life-cycle rituals, the dance hall, or el salón de baile, functions as backdrop for the development of a certain protocol that stipulates what and when certain elements develop. At the beginning of the formal quinceañera presentation, the procession--made up of the honoree, her parents, her court of honor and her padrinos and madrinas--files into the hall. The music group, which in Laredo tends to be a Tejano or conjunto group, plays a marcha while the master of ceremonies announces the names of the participants and their parents. In the cases where the godparents participate in the procession they too are introduced. At the very end, the emcee announces the honoree and her parents who enter and take positions of honor. The first song, selected by the honoree and her parents, is usually a waltz, which she dances with her father. Then, if appropriate with her grandfather(s). It used to be "Sobre las Olas;" now it is more likely to be "A Ritmo de Bals" that the honoree dances with her father. Immediately after ending the "first dance," with her chamberlán, she along with the group dance a choreographed piece; the chamberlán and the damas and their escorts join in. In Selina Reyes' 1994 quinceañera, the order was inverted. The whole group danced the first dance, a choreographed piece to the music of "A Ritmo de Bals." She then danced with her father to a Whitney Houston song, "I'll Always Love You," tears streaming down her cheeks as she was overcome with emotion. As in many other occasions, such as weddings, her presentation became a truly bilingual and bicultural event. At most quinceañera celebrations, at the conclusion of the special dance presentation, the rest of the invited guests join in the dancing. Then they partake of a meal, almost always it is traditional fiesta food--pollo en mole, fritada de cabrito, or tamales. For my fiesta, my uncle brought three cabritos which my grandmother cooked en fritada and asado along with the huge cazuelas of rice and beans and enough tortillas to feed our family for a month. Food is an important element in the reception and has undergone some of the most dramatic changes. Whereas 30 years ago fiestas such as baptisms, weddings and quinceañeras required mole, cabrito, pozole, tamales, depending on the season and the occasion, today's celebrations seem to require only that there be a meal and a cake. We must note one of the most significant changes: a change from these traditional celebratory foods to whatever the caterer offers--steak, a cold-plate buffet, or even a Mexican buffet with enchiladas and tostadas, foods that would have been deemed too ordinary for a fiesta. The choice of music for the dance--conjunto, country, pop, rock, Tejano--may also shift and change from one generation to another. At my older cousins' fiestas and at my own, the music came from a record player and consisted mostly of boleros by Chelo Silva and other regional singers. The live music, when it was affordable in the 1950s and 1960s, was provided by local groups such as Los Hermanos Valdez, Beto Silva, or the Valenciano Brothers or groups such as the Royal Jesters. Sound systems such as Pobrezza and Elvira's Sound System provide a mix of anything from pop music to cumbias to rancheras and Tejano to conjunto; live music can be a rock group or even a punk band instead of the more common Tejano or tropical group. The change signals a cultural preference that signifies the postmodern scheme of a culture that turns on two axis: that of South Texas and Northern Mexico and on various planes of social class. In this border culture everything goes, all is bartered, even traditional celebrations.

These observations of the dance and the mass that are obviously communal lead us into a discussion of the elements that reverberate on a more individual level, the elements of the celebration at the personal level. The fiesta, seen from the perspective of the young woman whose initiation this is, must begin with a description of the dress and the various accoutrements she must wear for the ceremony. These become the cultural signifiers that construct the feminine in a particular fashion. Although she does not delve into the particular material objects or the cultural production of the celebration, Dávalos points to the obvious socializing effect of the quinceañera tradition and to the constraints placed on the young women as the church seeks to socialize them into submissive, nurturing women, while they themselves see the fiesta "as a time for internal self-reflection" as they are initiated into womanhood (15). The objects worn and received by the young honoree signify adulthood; the following discussion centers on the description and significance of these cultural icons.

El Vestido / The Dress

One of the differences between the celebrations in the U. S. and on the Mexican side of the border is often the color of the dress. In Central America, Cuba, and Puerto Rico the dress is invariably pink or at least a pastel shade, lavender, blue, yellow, etc. As expected, when these immigrant communities celebrate in their new home, they choose pink or other pastel colors. The most notable examples are the Salvadorean celebrations. In their fiesta rosa, as celebrated by the Salvadorean community in D.C., for example, the pink dress is a must. In a recent celebration in Houston featured in the Home section of The New York Times, Salvadorean Karla Chávez wore a pink dress that cost $600 and was ordered a year in advance. Along the border and for most Chicanas, the dress is white, and it is the damas who don the pastel colored dresses--pink, yellow, lime green, pale blue, or salmon. On a recent trip to Matehuala, however, I noted that the stores are now stocking dresses in brighter shades and even some red print fabrics showed up. One of the young women of the two quinceañeras being celebrated at the cathedral in Matehuala on the Saturday in early September when I was visiting, wore a white gown with black trimming and had girls as young as six and seven years old as damas, a true change in the tradition which the mother of the young woman informed me had become traditional in the rancheria where they live about 20 kilometers from Matehuala. In any case, for most fiestas, the dresses are formal or semi-formal and the chamberláns wear tuxedos with bow ties and cummerbunds to match the dresses. In defiance of this color code, Brenda de la Rosa's damas wore burgundy lace over satin bodices and short skirts over which they wore full-length satin skirts that they removed at one point of the dance. The mother chose the color and agreed that it was not very traditional, but she expressed a preference for dark colors over pastels as the reason for her choice.

A seamstress in Nuevo Laredo, who specializes in wedding and quinceañera dresses, comments that the clients she gets from Laredo or from farther inland, San Antonio or Houston for example, ask for the white dresses, and that often they complain because they cannot find quinceañera dresses in white at the local bridal and quinceañera dress shops where the quinceañeras dresses are usually pink or some other pastel color. It seems like the main color difference lies between the Chicanas who traditionally wear white and the other Latinas in the U.S. who stick to pastel colors, usually pink. And yet there are some changes and shiftings in the tradition.

I remember thirty-five years ago going to buy my quinceañera dress in downtown Laredo. I don't know why my mother who sewed beautiful dresses for other girls did not make mine, and I don't know why we didn't go across the river to a bridal shop. I barely remember shortly before Christmas going downtown with my Mom and visiting store after store only to be disappointed. We didn't really like anything that we could afford. Finally, we returned to a store where we had seen what was closest to what we had in mind. I believe it was Winnie Lee, or it may have been Las Novedades, where we found a white number that fit the bill. It was semi-formal length with tres faldas, that is the crinoline for fullness, a plain slip under it, and a white nylon overskirt that fell like a cloud all around my skinny frame. The wide skirt fell from a plain sleeveless scoop neckline bodice, topped by a bolero-style jacket made of white rabbit fur; I hope it was fake fur. I felt glamorous, and a bit awkward, walking down the aisle on my parents' arms at San Luis Rey Church.

Klariza Ruiz' dress was custom made by a costurera--Ileana González who was also invited to the party to see how her creation looked in action. González makes quite a few quinceañera dresses a year and tells of how rewarding it is to see the girls who come for the fittings emerge as young women at the fiesta. The dress, because it is formal and grown-up, indicates the coming of age of the celebrant and is therefore a critical element in the fiesta. Shortly after the late 1960s and early 1970s when the celebration seems to have been put aside in many middle-income families, proms became popular at the local junior high schools, thus providing a different arena for acting grown up by donning grown-up formal wear. A dress can run anywhere from about $100 to well over $1,000 depending on the embroidery required and the cost of the fabric chosen. In Monterrey, one of the shops in the zona rosa shopping area advertises complete sets of shoes, diadem, bouquet, and dress for $1000. But such packages, however convenient, don't always provide the leeway for padrinos and madrinas who will purchase the various items separately.

La Diadema / The Headpiece

Nowadays, one frequently sees artificial flowers used on the diadem, or tiara, and the nosegays--crystal, plastic or silk, while in earlier times, the artisans who made the arreglos for both weddings and quinceañeras used natural flowers dipped in wax to construct the elaborate headpieces and ramos [flower bouquet]. Eva Castellanoz, who was recognized for her creations as a National Heritage Award Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts, claims that, currently, fewer young women choose the traditional diadem and prefer to wear tiaras with rhinestones or other glass for their headpieces. Klariza Ruiz' diadem was shaped with wire into a crown covered with silk and adorned with silk flowers and ribbons to match the bouquet and tiny embroidery of her dress. It was attached to her hairdo with pins, and the curls cascaded to her shoulders. Brenda de la Rosa chose a headpiece that sported a string of pearls falling on her forehead suspended from a band of silk flowers. Her damas wore similar headpieces and wore their hair up in French twists topped by curls. The shops in Nuevo Laredo carry the sets of diadem and bouquet from as little as $30 to well over $300. Notably absent from the tiara is the veil which is reserved for bridal headpieces. According to Erevia the crown "is a symbol of sharing in the mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King" (94).

Libro y Rosario / The Missal and Rosary

The missal and rosary that once could only be bought in Mexico are now easily available in bridal and gift shops serving the Latino/a comunity in the US; often they are published in Spain, but the text is available in either Spanish or English. I can't help but notice that due to the young people's loss of Spanish, there is obviously a demand for the English version and the Spanish publishers are quickly filling it. Whereas before the libro y rosario were often bought on special order from Mexico, now they are available wherever U.S. Latinos live. In Washington, D.C. several shops in the Adams Morgan and Mt. Pleasant areas advertise in the area Spanish language newspapers that they sell such items, as do shops in Virginia and Maryland. I bought Klariza Ruiz' rosary at the National Basilica gift shop, and then I bought a Bible, instead of a missal, at a gift shop a shopping mall in Laredo. The rosary was made in Italy; the Bible printed in Spain proclaimed along with a picture on the cover that it was especially made for a quinceañera. The libro y rosario also mark the coming of age of the celebrant, for she no longer receives the child-size rosary or the first communion missal, but adult objects for worshipping as an adult. Brides also receive a libro y rosario, and I have often wondered why the groom does not receive the same; could it be that the custom is reinforcing the belief that holds women responsible for the spiritual well-being of the family? Just like they are expected to have the home altar and be in charge of prayer, the young women are being initiated into a gender-specific domain through the gift of the libro y rosario.

The religious goods shops in Nuevo Laredo make a brisk business with their libro y rosario sets for weddings and quinceañeras. The price range, again varies from about $30 to over $300 for cut crystal rosary and a gold-embossed cover on the missal. Like the gift shop in Laredo, many offer, for a small fee, to inscribe or engrave the rosary and the book with the honoree's initials and the date of the celebration.

Medalla de Oro / The Religious Gold Medal

The medalla de oro, or religious medal, is often of the Virgen de Guadalupe and is inscribed with the date, and initials or the name of the young woman. It is presented before the mass so that she is wearing it, during the ceremony; the priest blesses it along with her libro y rosario during the mass. Dávalos talks of the special relationship that is established between the young woman and the Virgen at this point (14). In my case, the medalla de la Virgen de Guadalupe did indeed signal a coming of age. My madrina was my paternal grandmother who was also my baptism sponsor and who had at that time given me a medallita fit for an infant which I wore in a small chain around my neck. For my quinceañera, she gave me an adult-size Virgen de Guadalupe medal with the date and my initials inscribed on the reverse. I treasured and wore the medal for almost 30 years until I lost it on a trip when it mysteriously disappeared.

At some specialty stores, as I mentioned earlier, one can purchase a total package that includes dress, headpiece, bouquet, shoes, and the cojín or altar cushion. But, the medalla is never a part of this package and usually the padrinos and madrinas will buy it and the other jewelry--ring, earrings--and headpiece and bouquet separately. In the instruction given the young women by the Church, the symbolism of the medal is stressed as she is told that she is now avowed to the Virgen de Guadalupe. Erevia includes a prayer to be recited after communion that says, "Our Lady of Guadalupe, I honor you as the Mother of God. I ask that you guide my steps as I am molded into the image of Jesus, your son. Help me to be faithful to my baptismal promise" (106). In some celebrations, the parents are asked to come forward at this point in the mass and bless the young woman who then offers a rose to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The gold medal is perhaps the one signifier that clearly links the tradition to indigenous roots in that the story of Guadalupe is of a covenant with the Indian population.

Some of the other accoutrements that the honoree wears, like the earrings and ring, I will treat a little later in our discussion of the padrinos and madrinas. For now, let us examine the way that these personal items function in the fiesta. As we have seen, the young woman is initiated into womanhood and presented objects that signal her initiation. Norma Benavides in her memoirs includes the text of a letter her father wrote to his oldest daughter Blanca on the occasion of her quinceañera in the late 1930s. There he offers advice and guides his daughter through this transition (39). If the function is an initiation into adulthood, where are the symbols of sexual awakening, one might ask. Well, in some fiestas the young woman also changes from flats to high heels in the course of the presentation and receives a "last doll," also signaling the change. The jewelry and the shoes, I submit are icons as much as is the medal and the libiro y rosario of her new status as a woman in the society. Erevia talks of how in the indigenous puberty rites the youth were subjected to hardships, and if they survived the suffering they were then treated as mature adults. Well, tongue in cheek, I submit that the wearing of high heels can be seen as a hardship as well as a sign of the suffering to come for the young women as they enter the world of adults where women must self-torture to fit society's idea of what is beautiful and feminine. The young woman's sexual awakening is acknowledged by the instruction and preparation that some parishes use to prepare the young people involved in the quinceañera (Lorch C4). But the most powerful messages are those transmitted by the event itself, a performance of budding womanhood on at least two levels: religious and social.

Respondents to the questionnaire noted that the quinceañera marks a transition from childhood to adulthood and those who held the celebration talk of how they felt grown-up afterwards and were given more privileges by their families after the celebration. Wearing heels and make-up and being allowed to date were mentioned most often. In cases where they felt that the young men should not have the celebration, respondents noted the fact that young men don't need such a transition, being that boys always have been more privileged and have had these privileges at a younger age. For the individual, male or female, going through a quinceañera it can certainly signal a change, and mark a milestone in life. But along with the new status comes new responsibilities and expectations the society proscribes.

The role of padrinos and madrinas in certain life-cycle events, as Norma Williams has noted in, The Mexican American Family: Tradition and Change, serves to lend social stability and as a buffer to outside forces. But the madrinas and padrinos of the quinceañera also function on another level to provide financial support for the celebration and as a cementing of bonds between family members and among friends.

Los Padrinos / The Godparents

Yet, the inclusion of sponsors, or madrinas and padrinos, does not depend solely on the financial need of the family. As I see it the tradition extends beyond and into the social needs of the community, for to be a padrino or a madrina is to be involved in the initiation of a new member to the community of adults. Of course, when a family is financially well off and chooses not to have padrinos and madrinas, it is taken as both an affront--showing that they need no help from the family and friends--or as a sign of self-sufficiency. For this reason, even those families who can foot the total bill, will invariable have some madrinas and padrinos. Selina Reyes' quinceañera cost $13,000. It is clear that the parents could well afford the party. And yet there were madrinas for such things as last doll, medalla, cojín, aretes, anillo, cake, and such. So, the system does not just work to provide financial support, but to cement social ties with family and friends.

The roster of godparents or sponsors often appears in the invitation. Some families recruit family members as sponsors while others make do with a minimum of sponsors. There are those who recruit sponsors for all aspects of the fiesta from the church to the shoes. I will list and look at only the essential ones, the ones that are most common. For my own quinceañera, only family were padrinos and madrinas, and as noted earlier in keeping with what was customary at the time, the fiesta took place at home and not at a salón. Given the financial restraints of my family, we did not have live music nor did I have damas and chamberláns accompanying me in church or at the party. And yet, I had madrinas for certain key items: medalla, libro y rosario, iglesia, and for jewelry--ring, earrings, bracelet.

La Iglesia / The Church

Just like in a wedding, the church sponsors pay the church a fee for the mass; sometimes this includes music during the mass. The floral arrangements for the altar are also usually included unless there is an added cost. If the chorus or soloist is not included sponsors will be added to cover these costs. Often the church fee includes all these in a package rate. In some celebrations, the family is involved in planning the liturgy for the mass and readers are chosen from among the damas and chamberláns or from among the madrinas and padrinos.

Libro y Rosario / Missal and Rosary

I have already described these items; suffice it to say that usually the madrina is a single woman, often a cousin or maiden aunt who purchases these, and if the young woman does not, she has them blessed by the priest during or immediately after the mass.


The sponsors of the "sound system" or musical group, pay for the music. Often they will contract a mariachi band to play "Las mañanitas" and other rancheras, a Tejano or cumbia group to provide the dance music and the music for the entrance procession. Instead of a group a disc jockey might be contracted. Whichever it is, sound system or live music, the music is essential for the performance of the first waltz of the honoree with her father and the choreographed dance of the honoree and the corte de honor. Because of the high cost of a dance band and a mariachi group--sometimes as high as $5,000 for the dance group alone and up to $800 for one hour of mariachi music, from $25 to $150 an hour for the sound system--there are often several sponsors for the music. Currently there are some songs that seem to have become musts for the performance, "A Ritmo de Bals," "Muñeca de Quince Años," and "Vestido de color de rosa." If the live band does not know or do not play such music, recorded music is played.

La Medalla / The Religious Medal

As already discussed, the medalla is perhaps the most religious of the gifts, for the honoree will wear it from here on in, sometimes for life as a symbol of her personal vow to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The madrina will place the medal of the Virgen de Guadalupe and the gold chain around the young woman's neck prior to the mass, so she can wear it and have it blessed during the mass. Or, she may have had it blessed before the mass. The date of the fiesta and/or her initials will be inscribed on one side, if the medal does not have images on both sides.

The Ring

The madrina de anillo gives the honoree a birthstone ring, for example if the birthday is in January, the stone will be the garnet, if it is February, it will be amethyst, and so on. The ring too may be inscribed with the initials and the date.

Cojín / The Pillow

The sponsors for the cojín are in charge of buying and placing the cojín at the altar where the quinceañera will kneel, either as part of the procession, coming into the church ahead of the damas, or putting it in place before the mass begins. Sometimes a younger cousin or sibling is chosen as madrina de cojín. For Brenda de la Rosa it was her younger sister who carried the cojín. The cost of the altar pillow runs from about $20 to $100, depending on the embroidery and quality of the fabric used.

El Salón / The Hall

The padrinos de salón are either those who rent the hall or who are in charge of the decorations, or in some instances of both--the lease and the decorations. The decorations will often use the same color scheme that the damas are wearing. For Brenda de la Rosa's fiesta, the salón, the local firefighters' hall, was decorated by the mother with some help from friends. A huge Cinderella wrought iron carriage where gifts were deposited was placed next to the music. Foot-high carriage models covered with pink lace and burgundy ribbon graced each table. Inside the stylized carriage was either a four inch pink high heel slipper or a four inch doll dressed like the damas. Guests are invited to take these table decorations home as mementos. At the entrance to the dance floor was a white, wrought iron archway decorated with a garland of greenery, white flowers, and pink net fabric and ribbons. In Klariza Ruiz' the decorations mirrored the light pink roses of her diadem, and balloons shaped an entrance archway through which the procession emerged as they were presented. The choice of salón reflects the financial standing of the family. The range runs the gamut from the W.O.W. Hall or the private salón de fiestas to the Civic Center ballroom or the ballroom of the local exclusive hotels or even the Laredo Country Club. The same phenomenon, predictably, exists in Nuevo Laredo where the daughters of the elites hold their fiestas at the Country Club or the Cueva Leonística, the Lions Club hall. In recent years several salones have opened up on both sides to cater to the demand. In one case, a local dance instructor opened a salón de fiestas, Majesty, and rents it as a package that includes music, a three-course dinner, videographer, security guards, champagne, and even waiters. The cost varies according to the menu and the type of music selected; there is a choice between a sound system or live music. Although it is not unusual for a Laredo family to hold the reception in Nuevo Laredo, the reverse is rarely true. This practice may have resonance with a common early practice from a time in the late 1940s and 1950s when most socializing occurred on the Mexican side where the more exclusive restaurants were situated.

La Última Muñeca / The Last Doll

As a symbol of her passage from childhood to adulthood, the young woman receives a doll from her madrina de muñeca. The doll is usually presented at the conclusion of the formal presentation and before the cake is cut and distributed. Selina Reyes received a beautiful handmade doll, while Brenda de la Rosa received a dark-haired Barbie dressed in a replica of Brenda's dress. The tradition in Matehuala seems to be to have one of these Barbies dressed as a car decoration on the hood of the car the young woman will ride to and from the church.


Sometimes the padrinos de limousine merely pay for the limo that transports the honree to church from her home and from the church to the salón. In other cases the parents foot the bill for the limo. The young woman and as many of her court of honor who fit will ride in the limo. Klariza Ruiz rode with her parents to the church and with her damas to the reception. But, not all honorees have a limousine and many just ride in the family car.


Los padrinosde queque are in charge of buying the cake, setting it up, cutting it, and distributing it among the guests. Using the same color scheme, the madrina will have the honoree's name and the date printed on the napkins. In some cases the madrina is also the baker, but most often, the cake is ordered from a local bakery where there are certain styles that are common for quinceañeras. Among the most popular is the one that has a staircase on each side from tier to tier; 14 dolls--seven on each side--are positioned as if climbing toward the top tier where the white-dressed quinceañera doll stands. There are also those that have a tiny fountain with running water cascading amid the various tiers. The cake for a recent fiesta cost $800.00. Because of the excessive cost the madrina was not able to pay the total, and did not get her name listed in the roster, although at the time of taking pictures with the madrinas she was included.

El Brindis / The Toast

For the toast, the padrinos are in charge of buying champagne and serving it at the appropriate time. While most will also provide an non-alcoholic beverage for the underage damas, chamberláns, and of course honoree, many insist that at least the honoree actually sip the drink. This too signals a coming of age, and for many quinceañeras the sip at the end of the toast in her honor is her first taste of alcohol. Often it is a sparkling soda water that the young participants toast with, while the adults toast with their beer, wine, or hard liquor. However, there are instances where the drinking is encouraged by the adults who see this as a rite of passage as well.

Album / Video

Padrinos and Madrinas de album or video are charged with documenting the event. The album is an elaborately decorated combination photo album and guest book where guests sign in as they enter or are asked to sign by the madrina who is often a young woman. A fancy pen is placed by the book at the entrance of the reception hall. Often a large framed photograph of the honoree is also displayed at the entrance. The video is most often commissioned by the padrinos to document both the mass, brindis, presentation, first dance, choreographed dance, cutting of the cake, and other highlights like the entrega de la última muñeca. The cost of a custom-made album can run up to $50 and the videographer will charge up to $300 to document the event.

Padrinos and madrinas of other things, like high heels or recuerdos [souvenirs], can also be included. Young girls are sometimes selected to distribute recuerdos, which can be prayer cards or cards of thanksgiving at the mass. These cards are engraved with the date and the honoree's name and can either express a prayer or a thank you to those in attendance. The custom of sponsorship serves a twofold function: to provide a social glue for the honoree between her immediate family and the rest of her family and friends, and as a support for the financially strapped family whose celebration might not be as elaborate were it not for the financial help that padrinos and madrinas provide. I was recently asked to be a madrina for an upcoming quinceañera and was given a choice of either $25 or $50 dollars. I had not had occasion to participate in such a practical and clear cut approach to the need for financial resources to sponsor the fiesta before; usually one is told of items that are needed such as the album or the libro y rosario. Perhaps it is a sign of things to come as the fiesta becomes even more elaborate and costly.

As a final word on the elements that make up the celebration, I must include the information that the Internet provides, mostly in the form of advertisements for sound systems, caterers, florists, and the like. Various websites include information on the tradition, although as of December, 1996, none offered an explanation or a description of the fiesta. There was also a short narrative written by a high school student from the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas that described a traditional quinceañera in her family.

The Typical Quinceañera

There is of course no such thing as a typical performance of a quinceañera. Any attempt at establishing traditionality or of freezing the performance in any such way would deny the organic nature of the event. All performance, by its very nature is fluid and never static. But in the case of the quinceañera there are far too many factors involved that would make any attempt at establishing a definitive schema futile. Additionally, The social class and financial resources of the family as well as the young woman's personality will dictate how many of these elements the fiesta will have. Although, because of time and space restraints I have not dealt with them here, there are other instances of performance of the tradition that do not adhere to the basic elements. Perhaps the most disruptive for some is the celebration of quinceañeros, that is, males who choose to have a celebration as elaborate and grand as those for the females. And then there are young women who choose to have only male escorts and no damas. The Dávila family case in Laredo, and Maribel Gonzalez' quinceañera in Nuevo Laredo are two such instances. The latter cited two reasons for choosing this non-traditional court of honor: she had more male friends and her mother felt that this way she would be the one to lucirse [display]. So, if there is no typical fiesta, what can we say about the tradition? Well, as with most living traditions, we can say that it is being transformed with each performance. And as with all performances there is an element of change even within that which survives seemingly unchanged. Dávalos tells of how the women she interviewed recognized that ability to pay for the various elements did not make a fiesta traditional and how they were uncomfortable with classifying a particular fiesta as more or less traditional (18). She quotes Gwen Stern's description of a "traditional" quinceañera instead of which "less affluent families, and less traditonal ones, may simply give a birthday party...since a full fledged quinceañera is an expensive affair" (4). Decidedly, the celebration has enjoyed a resurgence and is alive and well not just along the border where it has never died, but elsewhere in the country wherever Latinos/as celebrate their daughters and sons' coming of age.


The existing documentation of the quinceañera tradition lies in the private photo albums, videos, and in the newspaper clippings that show young women wearing the distinctive diademas under a heading that reads, "quinceañera." For the most part special feature articles by Euro-American reporters for newspapers like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Detroit Free Press, seek to explain the phenomenon as it exists in the marginalized Latino population of large metropolitan cities that their papers serve. But reporters from newspapers like the San Antonio Express, who are often of the community, do not so much explain and inform, they also treat stories of unusual cases like the quinceañeros or the selection of a young woman as the quinceañera of the year. But, in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo the quinceañeras appear as regular features in the society pages of The Laredo Morning Times, El Mañana, and El Diario as if these were no more special than the numerous wedding and engagement announcements.9 And, indeed they are not.

Another new phenomenon is the appearance of at least two publications dedicated to the quinceañera celebration, Quinceañera Showcase a bimonthly magazine published in San Antonio by the Longoria family and Solo para Fiestas published in Miami. Both publications highlight a particular young woman. In Miami the winner of the Miss Quinceañera Latina Pageant is featured (NYT 42). In San Antonio each issue of Quinceañera Showcase seeks to highlight a quinceañera of the Month (4). But the publication of a special magazine has not reached the border area yet.

The documentation of the tradition is necessary if only to note the changes that it is undergoing. The last 30 years we have seen tremendous changes in the way that the performance occurs in community. Undoubtedly the next 30 years will bring even more changes. A quinceañera with her own home page on the Internet? A virtual quinceañera? Madrinas del Internet? de computer? I will not dare to predict any of these, but I will assuredly predict that changes are forthcoming as the celebration continues to serve the needs of the community and of the individual.


Because it is a cultural phenomenon rich in material cultural production and performance, I hold that the celebration attests to the strength and rootedness of a cultural tradition that has existed in what is now the United States for over a hundred years. But, it has not remained static and has evolved and changed to meet the changing needs of the community. In Chicago and Detroit, it may be that the tradition has changed over the years to become more of a cultural affirmation than a personal and traditional coming of age rite and that it works within the community as an act of resistance as Dávalos and Summers seem to assert. But, in Laredo, the changes are due mostly to the changing cultural mores of a society accosted from both sides--the U.S. and Mexico--and one that blends and accomodates both as it maintains the integrity of a cultural tradition whose roots lie in Mexican culture and whose function remains one of celebrating life and signalling a transition from childhood into young adulthood. The changes however are not confined to the quinceañera celebration, but as in other instances where a tradition is duplicated or expanded, this one is in the process of undergoing transformations. It has already spawned a few non-traditional celebrations. In 1992 Sandra Cisneros had a quinceañera for her 38th birthday in San Antonio.10 In 1996 Judge Hilda Tagle had a Cincuentañera in Corpus Christi, where many of the elements of the traditional quinceañera were adapted, some in jest and others seriously.

These expressions of celebration and thanksgiving offer the same type of life-cycle event markers, and yet they celebrate a later period: it is no longer the initiation into adulthood, but the celebration of a full adult life, as exemplified in Tagle's invitation that asks invitees to join in a celebration of the joie de vivre. 11 But a full exploration of these tranformations and a more sociological explanation of the fiesta's expanding structure is not the purview of this analysis.

The Conclusion

We must consider that unlike other areas of the country where these celebrations occur, the quinceañeras along the border are not about keeping an immigrant tradition alive, they are about continuing a tradition that has always been here. Karen Mary Dávalos in her work with immigrant communities in Chicago points out that "Mexicanas are trying to hold onto their roots." We can say that the border communities are doing the same by adapting, transforming, and celebrating the unique culture of the borderlands as they celebrate the passage into adulthood of their young women. quinceañera celebrations along the border, however, do something else as well; they continue a tradition that stretches back into our cultural history as a conquered region whose population refuses to abandon its traditions and customs even when these same traditions and customs may change and shift to fit different historical imperatives. As long as young men and women and their families feel a need to offer a celebration, a thanksgiving for life and to mark a youth's transition into adulthood, quinceañeras will continue to be celebrated.


1. Although we use the term "quinceañera" when speaking of both the fiesta and the honoree in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, in most areas of Mexico it is the young woman who is a "quinceañera" and the celebration is referred to as "la fiesta de quince años." Reporter Linda Morales Zamarripa says that in San Antonio the "quinceañera(o) refers not only to the person but to the event as well" (S6). In Cuban and Puerto-Rican communities it is called the "fiesta de quince," or just plain "quince," while in the Central American immigrant communities it is the "fiesta rosa."

3. Sr. Angela Erevia's Handbook for Parish Teams has been widely used by the Catholic church to train leaders who lead workshops for the youth who will participate in quinceañeras.

4. I treat the idea of cultural tradition as resistance in Los Matachines de la Santa Cruz: Soldiers of the Cross and in The Offering and the Offerers: A Generic Illocation of a Laredo Pastorela in the Tradition of the Shepherds' Plays.

5. Karen Mary Dávalos cites the Chicago diocese policy of refusal to accept young women in church who were "accompanied by chamberlains(sic)" (10).

6. The elements of all celebrations can be structurally mapped to indicate the type of celebration. A typography of festivals and fiestas would separate the fiestas into either liturgical, secular celebration. They all include particular dress, actions, and elements such as food and drink whose presence signals that the fiesta is "complete."

7. The language here becomes a point of difference. Through articulative intrusion the Laredoans have added an "r" that is almost always absent when Mexicans speak of the escorts as "chambelans," or perhaps the Spanish in Mexico has dropped the original "r" in the original French "chamberlain." On another point, "damas" are called "faith companions" by Sr. Angela Erevia in her A Rememberance of My Quince Años(1992).

8. Erevia likens the tradition to a baptism into adulthood, and Dávalos points to how the Church's institutionalizing the tradition into almost a sacrament makes it easier to instill "female" behavior on the young women.

9. In the texts and photos of the hundreds of clippings that I have collected from these and other newspapers, there are marked differences in the way that the celebration and the celebrant is described in Nuevo Laredo, Laredo, Monterrey, San Antonio, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Detroit, and other places. One notable difference is the fact that most of the young women in Laredo will have their portrait taken with the diadem and dress of the fiesta, while several young women in Nuevo Laredo appear in regular dress and without the diadem.

10. Part spoof and part "surprise" birthday party, Cisneros' celebration included madrinas and a chamberlán. In a sense her performance of the tradition, although imbued with a nostalgic air, for she was having the celebration she did not have at 15, was a first in the direction of taking the tradition and adapting it to an older age.

11. Taking the traditional structure of the quinceañera and superimposing age-appropriate items Tagle has reconfigured the celebration. Perhaps she took her cue from popular "menopause parties" and "Croning" rituals in the feminist celebrations of maturity for her adaptation of the tradition.

This article was prepared in 1995 under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation Gateways Project for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio, Texas in 1995. Dr. Norma Elia Cantú is a professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she directs the doctoral program in English. Dr. Cantú's areas of specialization are in Latino/a literature, folklore, and borderland studies.