Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a “phenomenal, indispensable” (USA Today) exploration of the Latina “sweet fifteen” celebration, by the bestselling author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of Butterflies
The quinceañera, a celebration of a Latina girl’s fifteenth birthday, has become a uniquely American trend. This lavish party with ball gowns, multi-tiered cakes, limousines, and extravagant meals is often as costly as a prom or a wedding. But many Latina girls feel entitled to this rite of passage, marking a girl’s entrance into womanhood, and expect no expense to be spared, even in working-class families. Acclaimed author Julia Alvarez explores the history and cultural significance of the “quince” in the United States, and the consequences of treating teens like princesses. Through her observations of a quince in Queens, interviews with other quince girls, and the memories of her own experience as a young immigrant, Alvarez presents a thoughtful and entertaining portrait of a rapidly growing multicultural phenomenon, and passionately emphasizes the importance of celebrating Latina womanhood.
Skillfully blending memoir and social science, Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) explores the quincea era, the coming-of-age ceremony for Latinas turning 15. She spent a year researching and attending "quince" celebrations, finding out what rituals are favored and what they mean to the girls. She researched what the gowns and photo sessions cost. She interviewed people working in the "quince" industry, from party planners to cake bakers. After all, with more than 400,000 American Latinas turning 15 every year, and with the average quincea era costing $5,000, the financial, if not the cultural importance of the "quince" should not be underestimated. Alvarez structures her book around one particular girl's ceremony, from the dreamy planning stages through the late hours of the actual, dizzying affair. By intercutting the party narrative with stories from her own youth, Alvarez reminds herself and readers that at some point we were all confused, histrionic adolescents. Both sympathetic and critical, she doesn't dismiss the event as a waste of hard-earned savings or as a mere display of daughters for the marriage market; nor does she endorse it as the essential cultural tradition connecting Latinas to their roots. Instead, Alvarez wants readers to focus on creating positive, meaningful rites of passage for the younger generation.