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Profiles of people who uplift, maintain, or change traditions within their communities.

Quienceñeras changing culture & maintaining community

Picture of Esmeralda, with a signature book for guest.
Picture of Esmeralda, with a signature book for guest.

Quienceñeras mark the end of childhood and the introduction of womanhood amongst friends, family, and society. Often, both parents and daughters plan and envision their perfect party. But these quienceñeras don’t just happen. They take planning, community support and imagination.

A quienceñera is a celebration that both parents and daughters eagerly await. Dreaming, planning, and envisioning the perfect night. But these parties just don’t happen overnight, it takes a ton of planning, community support, advice, and imagination.

It’s a Friday night at a banquet hall in Hayward AND the sun is setting. People in dressy party clothes arrive, greeting relatives, and enjoying the appetizer table.

Welcome to the quienceñera party of Esmeralda Dulce González

Dulce is rocking a puffy green dress, adorned with flowers and green rhinestones on the sleeves. Her party theme?

“Eh, bosque, me"


"me gusta mucho la naturaleza."

…Because she loves nature.

Dulce is originally from Guatemala. She arrived in the United States over a year ago and is now a sophomore in high school. Like many girls her age, she’s excited to celebrate her quienceñera with her closest friends and family.

The lights begin to dim and people settle in their seats at round tables set with golden plates and flower centerpieces.

The ceremony begins…A quienceñera, is the celebration of a young girl marking the end of childhood and the emergence of womanhood amongst friends, family, and society. Quienceñeras have traditionally been reserved for girls -- The word literally means a fifteen-year-old girl.

Table wear set for Quinceñera
Table wear set for Quinceñera

The DJ invites up different people from her life who have supported her in her journey to reaching fifteen. Her godparents and her royal court were made up of her friends, her mother, and her uncle.

I’ve been to my fair share of quinceñeras and I’ve never seen a candlelight ceremony before. That’s the thing about quienceñeras They are all different and unique in their own way.

Quinceñeras are celebrated all throughout Mexico and Latin America. Taking influences from different regions, religions, and now social media. Everyone celebrates quienceñeras to their own taste.

And they’ve changed a lot over time.

las cosas han cambiado muchísimo

This is Alma Baez, the event planner and caterer for tonight. Ahora usan colores fuertes, están muy extravagantes

Alma says quienceñeras have become more extravagant- with brighter colors and more elaborate clothes.

Alma would know - because she’s basically a quienceñera expert. Tonight, she’s arranged everything from the flowers to the decorations. And she’s made a career of this.

"Ah, siempre tuve curiosidad desde que estaba en México. Me gustó mucho todo lo de lo que se trataba en bodas y que las quinceañeras de los eventos me gustaban mucho."

Alma’s always had an interest in the world of quienceñeras. Alma is from Sinaloa, Mexico. That’s when she started making dresses. She moved to the U.S. and opened her own dress shop in the ’90s.

When she first opened up her store, she was making dresses herself. Then she began expanding her business to event planning, making decorations, and catering.

Her quienceñera though? It wasn’t that extravagant…

"Y. Fue un evento, pues mucho más [00:07:38] sencillo, pero que mis papás me hice donde mucho corazón."

She says it was a simple event, but done with a lot of love. And it marked a real change in her life, because before then she wasn’t allowed to wear make-up or heels, or go out dancing.

"Ahora ya es diferente las muchachas cuando ya vienen, eh, dices yo ves, las veo, digo [00:08:22] cumplir 15 años. Estás estará la que enseñara. Ya las veo muy arregladas ya no es la misma que antes que [00:08:28] estudian como unas niñas."

She says, now things are different. Young girls might already wear make-up or dress more like women. When girls come in and she sees them, she asks herself: is this the girl that is turning 15-years old?

The culture around coming of age has changed, but the tradition of the quinceñera remains the same. Including the importance of community. Here is Dulce’s mom, Martha González.

"Pues trabajo desvelo, eh, colaboración."

Martha says: this event took hard work, sleepless nights, and collaboration from co-workers and family members. And they don’t just help out, they take on paying for specific parts of the event. Quienceñeras can be expensive, but they have a way of bringing people together to share the financial burden.

La ultima muñeca or the last doll is one of the traditions that have stayed the same.

Dulce’s godmother hands her a porcelain doll wearing the same color dress and accessories as Dulce.

The doll symbolizes saying goodbye to toys and the ending of childhood.

Esmeralda's Guest Suvienior
Esmeralda's Guest Suvienior

"You know, I don't think there aren't enough rites of passages these days."

This is LaDonna Dixon, Dulce’s English Second Language Teacher.

"And then to have a rite, a passage for a girl, it's just really, a young woman, it's just really inspiring and it's focused on her. I love that."

This is a right of passage that has lasted throughout many changes in culture. Now even some boys are having their own versions of quienceñeras. But it’s still a tradition that kids dream about…

I ask the kids at the party if they want their own quienceñera and got an enthusiastic

“Si, ¡Yo voy a cumplir quince años también!”



Guest dance on the dance floor
Guest dance on the dance floor

Then everyone raises their champagne glasses for the brindis - or toast - to celebrate Dulce’s quinceanera.

Although Dulce was the person of honor, this party was a community effort… from Alma the event planner…to all the family who pitched in…to the people who are going to stay to clean up after the night is over.

This story was made to be heard, click the play button above to listen

This story aired in the January 25, 2024 episode of Crosscurrents.

What's up! My name is Steffi Puerto (She/Her/Ella).
I was born and raised in East Oakland. I have a passion for community journalism, storytelling, and multimedia. I am excited to be a part of the KALW Radio Academy!