Growing up with three brothers and not Catholic, quinceañeras weren’t really a thing we did. But when Yvette Guerrero turned 15 and Betty Espinosa asked me to stand up with her in the quince, I had my first real experience with the hoopla that is the quinceañera.

 

And when the last school you taught in was predominantly Latinx students and your city basically closes down for an 11-day celebration of its Mexican heritage, you can’t escape the world of the quince.

 

More and more of the world is coming to learn of this tradition of Latin America that is part coming of age, part religious, part family gathering, but mostly party. While non-stop watching the Olympics this summer, I kept seeing the Uber commercial about Quince + 1 that gloriously depicted the spectacle of the quinceañera along with the reality of how life changed during the pandemic and how committed families are to the quinceañera. Teachers can refer to the IVCC lesson introduced here and use either the Uber commercial or the article with their students to generate thematic statements and ideas for writing.

 

And though Monica Gomez-Hira sets her novel Once Upon a Quinceañera in the humidity of Florida rather than the South Texas humidity I know, she captures all the bombast, ruffles, family drama, and chisme that surround the quince. 

 

We were driving past Coral Gables Park, a popular place to take outdoor pictures. A troop of teenagers was there, all dressed up, the boys in tuxes and the girls in slinky maroon tube dresses and matching heels. And even though I couldn’t see her, I knew that somewhere in that nest was a girl, probably dressed in a gown that looked like mine and Wave’s, wearing a huge-ass tiara that weighed her head down almost as much as the twenty pounds of Aqua Net they’d put on her hair to keep it from frizzing in Miami’s humidity. (6–7)

 

Of course, Carmen Aguilar can’t help but remember her non-quince quince when she comes upon this scene while riding in the car dressed as Belle from Beauty and the Beast with her best friend Waverly, dressed as Cinderella, while her mother drives them to their job with the princess party company Dreams Come True.

 

But she has no idea at that moment that the drama of her non-quince quince is about to come back at her with even more plot twists than her favorite show Cascadia Falls. Before she knows it, Carmen and her crew at Dreams Come True get dragged into being the entertainment for her cousin Ari’s quince thrown by her Tia Celia, whose own quince had its share of family history.

 

Tia Celia’s quince, twenty years ago, was where Tio Victor and Tia Celia had fallen in love. Not at first sight, because he’d seen her plenty—wait for it—while he was dating my mother” (68).

 

And even more chisme—Tia Celia is the reason for Carmen’s non-quince quince.

 

You may not know much about quinceañeras when you read Once Upon a Quinceañera, but by the time you finish, you’ll be all ready to dance a cumbia or two.

 

Download this lesson on visionary writing below!

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Michael Mendez Guevara is a former high school journalism and English teacher who spent his time in the classroom helping students see themselves as writers and fall in love with reading through the world of young adult literature. As an educational sales consultant with Perfection Learning®, Michael works with teachers and schools on improving their literacy instruction and providing resources to help students achieve academic success. He has taught elementary school, middle school, and high school and has worked as a district level leader and served on the Texas state standards revision committee that developed the state’s current literacy standards. He is the father of three adult sons, the youngest a student at the University of Kansas—Rock Chalk! Michael is working on a professional development book for literacy educators and currently has agents reading the manuscript of his young adult novel, The Closest Thing to a Normal Life. When he's not reading, writing, or running, Michael is fully committed to watching as much Law & Order as possible.