I never had a quinceañera, that ceremony thrown by so many Latin families when their daughters turn 15.
All of my female relatives in Cuba had them, and I got to see the photos — pretty girls in flouncy dresses, dancing in a formal way with boys in suits while old people smiled at them. Partly, I suppose, I was notquinceañera-ed because I was only half Cuban, my mother being a blue-eyed white American of English and Irish extraction, from rural New Mexico. I was born and raised in the United States and spoke no Spanish. But there were lots of other Cuban traditions we embraced, thanks to my father. I think that mostly I wasn’t given aquinceañera because it, like the Barbies and makeup I was never allowed to have, was just much too girly and traditional in the eyes of my radical academic feminist parents. Overall, they just weren’t terribly comfortable with the idea of me being a girl, much less a woman, at least not in any traditional way.
As a mother to an adolescent boy now, I can see the value in having some sort of right of passage for children as they cross over into the world of adulthood. Adolescence can be awkward, and I think these ceremonies ease kids into their new bodies, lives and selves with traditions that remind them they’re not alone, that we all went through it. American society as a whole doesn’t offer any formal acknowledgments of a child’s growing responsibilities and self, beyond, say, the day you get your driver’s license. I think ceremonies are important, and I think celebrating life passages as a community can go a long way toward helping to create a more caring and cohesive society. When I lived in New Orleans, I loved seeing the “coming out” photos of debutantes in the paper, sort of the same concept as aquinceañera. In high school, I envied my Jewish friends who got bar and bat mizvahs.
I wonder, are there any secular right of passage ceremonies that might work for American kids? (For the record, I don’t really count “sweet 16″ parties, because they tend not to have the ceremonial aspect and family involvement or emphasis on responsibility that the others I mentioned here do.)