By Kristen Seibel, age 16, El Salvadore
Coming of age. Traditions. Rituals. Every culture has some form of celebration to recognize the coming of an age where you are seen as a young adult. In North America they are “Sweet Sixteens” and in Latin America they are “Quinceañeras”.
Over the years, both celebrations have lost their ethnicity because society no longer thinks it is appropriate to wed at the age of fifteen and sixteen. Also, today, girls see this as a right, not an opportunity. In reality, so many girls who have Sweet Sixteens forget what this festivity symbolizes… the coming of age, when a girl is now considered a woman. For example, the show, “Sweet Sixteen” is basically about girls getting everything they want and having a huge party. However, to say the least, North America and other parts of the world felt that they needed another celebration for the “coming of age”. In Latin American countries it acknowledges your fifteenth birthday. Also in most Latin countries, at fifteen you can get your license. That is in part, some of the reason why in North America, they have Sweet Sixteens.
Both celebrations recognize the coming of age and have some similarities, but they have different traditions. In countries of Latin America, they call the celebration of when a girl reaches the age of maturity, a Quinceañera. The origin of a Quinceañera goes all the way back to the indigenous cultures of the Americas, for example, the Aztec and the Maya. When a girl came upon the age of fifteen, she was then considered a woman. They would then be wed and allowed to carry a child. Today, girls do not get wedded at the age of fifteen; however the celebration is still kept. That became a tradition later on.
Traditions for Quinceañeras consist of candle lighting at a church, the last doll which symbolizes the last toy of her childhood, the shoe ceremony where they replace the flat with a heel, and the dance between mother and daughter as well as the dance between father and daughter. Another tradition is wearing a pink dress. In Latin American countries, there is typically a church service that they attend where they talk about women and the coming of age.
Traditions for Sweet Sixteens vary because there are many different ethnic backgrounds. However, they run around the same lines. However, Quinceañeras are what girls in Latin and South America dream of. When I asked Camila Hernandez when she started to dream of her Quinceañera, she said that she started to dream of her perfect party when she was thirteen.
In North America and other countries the majority of people with European origins celebrate the “coming of age” at sixteen. The original origin isn’t clear, but it is evident that it has found its place in girl’s lives. As for traditions, there aren’t really all that many. There might be the dance with their parents, but other than that, tradition isn’t really a big concern, unless it includes receiving a car. When asking Tara Smith the age when she first dreamt about her Sweet Sixteen, she replied, “I was about eight when I really understood the concept of a Sweet Sixteen party, but thirteen when I started to actually dream about it.”
MTV has done Sweet Sixteens a disservice. They take the “over the top” girls and that is what the audience sees. The girls come off as being spoiled and obnoxious and the show doesn’t show the real purpose of having this kind of celebration. It is poisoning the minds of girls everywhere.
With this in mind, Quinceañeras and Sweet Sixteens are great celebrations, but over time, some people have lost their meaning and use them as an excuse for a party. This should be a sign that we are losing our background, and need to revive it.