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There’s no such thing as a free lunch — or quinceañera

16 October 2007

Lakshmi Chaudhry (Latina America Lavishly Comes of Age) in the Nation

With a self-described mission to chronicle “how our traditions are remade in the USA, repackaged and sold back to us at a higher price,” Julia Alvarez’s Once Upon a Quinceañera offers the expected critique of commercialization, but she also points to the complex, contradictory and often bewildering relationships among tradition, materialism and identity.

The quinceañera is a lavish fiesta that marks a Latina girl’s entry into womanhood, usually held on her fifteenth birthday. As with other such celebrations, these too have been supersized to epic proportions, with the average price tag running at $5,000 for a night of limousines, stylists, caterers and, of course, the overpriced, outsized princess dress.

The dollar amounts spent on the quinceañera are comparable to other sweet sixteen parties, but that kind of expense can represent a staggering financial burden for the average Latino family. Parents often save for years for this special night, sometimes dooming themselves to a lifetime of debt for one night of overindulgence. What can be dismissed as the cupidity of upper-middle-class wannabes on MTV looks like financial suicide for a typical working-class family in Queens.

But the extravagant quinceañera is about a lot more than keeping up with the Rodriguezes. “It’s just something that comes to us from the past, that we want to give our children because it’s something we never had,” says unemployed carpenter Manuel Ramos in Alvarez’s book, explaining his decision to spend $3,000-plus on his daughter Monica’s quinceañera.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 October 2007 11:07 am

    Did one of those for my daughter just this last January. I think your $5,000 USD figure is quite LOW! Here in México (Mazatlán) the cost was nearly $5,000 USD! And we had NO misa!

    Of course that was with about 350 guests, sitdown dinner, free drinks from 9 PM until 2 AM, DJ for the same hours and much much more.

    Many, many less affluent families have quinceañeras, but the way they get around the cost is to have padrinos and madrinos (godfathers and godmothers) for each little part of the celebration. They might have a padrino for the girl’s shoes, another for her dress, another for the DJ, etc., etc., etc. This way the cost is spread out among friends and relatives and no one gets hurt in their pocketbook too badly.

  2. KASSANDRA permalink
    30 November 2007 1:32 pm

    ii LOVE iiT U GuY HaV3 RaNCHEROS 4 UR QUiiNCE OMG ii LOVE iiT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Rose Ramirez permalink
    24 January 2008 10:22 pm

    Well as for your wonderful explanation of a quinceañera can totally be so stupid and ignorant on your part. I have been a part of so many 15th birthday celebrations and have never noticed that it has put a major financial burden on these families. Maybe if you really do an extended research into Hispanic families; you will find that many have set aside money just for this special occasion. There is also many families who can very well afford to spend more than 3,000.00 or up to 25,000.00 on an occasion that means so much to our traditional heritage. I have spent more than 3,000.00 on my nieces’ 15th birthday and did not feel it was a financial burden. I believe, when you believe in a tradition there should be no expense… But THANK YOU very much for making this article sound like all Mexicans are poor… I for one am not poor and I definitely know a lot of other Mexicans who are not poor and can surly afford a 20,000.00 quinceañera. DO YOUR RESEARCH IDIOT!


    This might have been a formatting problem… normally I set long quotes in sans-serif typeface. Someone else (on another issue) took exception to an excerpt that wasn’t typographically different, and assumed a quote was being passed off as my own work.

    The “idiot” would have been Ms. Chaudhry. I’m not sure where you read into this that anyone said “all Mexicans are poor”. What Ms. Chaudhry said was that these celebrations can be a financial burden on Latino/a (i.e. people in the United States who practice this custom) families. So, for that matter — as Ms. Chaudhry (or rather Ms. Alvarez, whose book Ms. Chaudhry was reviewing) notes in her article — are other “rites of passage” celebrations (senior proms, “sweet 16 parties,” wedding) in the United States.

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