Saturday, March 14, 2015

Quinceañera or Money for College?

I had one of the most interesting days I’ve ever had in a ten year career as a high school administrator.  I actually got to have multiple mentally stimulating AND fun conversations with young ladies during nutrition and lunch breaks.

This is in stark contrast from my usual job of simply supervising the areas where students hang out, and having an occasional conversation with a group of students.  Though I speak to as many students as the opportunity affords me, I’m not necessarily looking to talk to students during “their” time.  Teenagers, as you probably know, like being away from adults and with people of their own age group, as often as permitted while at school.

Image result for quinceanera
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But today was different.  You see, I had what I believed to be a very interesting question to ask of Latina young ladies: 

If you had to make a choice, would you rather have a Quinceañera or money for college?  

You should’ve seen the pensive looks and smiles on the 93 young Latinas I got around to talking with.  I’ve never seen them so engaged.  Grant it, I’m not spending all day in classrooms observing lessons.  

Before I go any further, I want to define to my non-Latino readers out there (who may not know) what a Quinceañera is:  

Quinceañera is the Spanish word for a girl that turns 15 years old.  Among Latinos everywhere, Quinceañera is also the name given to the coming-of-age celebration on a girl’s 15th birthday.  It's a big deal in Mexico, of course, owing to the influence of the Catholic church.  The English, but non-numerical or religious equivalent, would be, "A Sweet 16."
Like any other cultural tradition, the "Quince" in the U.S. has become more commercialized and expensive than ever.  To the point of the celebration being as big and costly as some weddings!  There were, in fact, Reality TV shows at the height of reality TV based on these extravagant Quince parties.  The young ladies featured on each episode were usually from wealthy families, and tried upstaging each other to get social points from peers.    

Being against cultural traditions in the Latino community is dangerous.  Most of the time, people who disfavor a certain custom would rather stay silent than risk being ostracized by their entire family, or worse, their barrio.  But then nothing ever gets challenged this way.  This leaves the Church as the only venue for mention of cultural traditions, where the talking is entirely done by one (male) person, the priest.  The financial nature of the Quinceañera will never be headlining a sermon.  The Church would never put forth one of their tried and true moneymakers up for discussion.  And that's too bad for religious Latinos living in the U.S.  Many may feel guilt because they can't afford to give their daughters a Quince, but sacrifice daily to sock money away nonetheless.  Some commit the Cardinal sin, pun intended, of using their credit cards to finance a Quince.  
Quince or money for college?  That is the question.

Before I give you the results of my very informal survey, I want to share what I told these young ladies prior to letting them answer.  My prompt:

"Imagine you're 14, unless you are 14, would you rather have a Quince, or money for college?  This is for just you to answer, no matter what your friends have to say.  There's no wrong answer."

I obviously realized that some of these young ladies may have had a Quince, or were in the midst of planning one.  That's why I asked a follow-up question: "Why?"  You will find their reasons to be quite interesting.

Money for College

Quince Justification
Money for College Justification
“That’s how you grow up with your culture.”

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing.”

“It’s tradition and it brings you memories.”

“I can always save money for college after.”

“My mom wanted it.”

“It’s a big step in life.”

“Part of your heritage.”

“It’s fun!”

“I can earn money later for college from scholarships.”

“You get money as a present and you could always save it.”

“I’d rather have a party with family and friends.”

“I can always start working and earn my own money later.”

“I had too!  My mom wanted it.”
“Doesn’t bring you anything.”

“It’s just one day.”

“What if your college is really expensive?”

“It’s a waste of money.  There were people at my Quince I didn't even know."

“I had a Quince and I spent all my money.  Now I wish I hadn’t.”

“There’s always 18 and 21.”

“Money for college is more needed.”

“I want to do something with my life.”

“You need college more in life.”

“College is my future.”

“I didn’t want a Quince.”

“The party isn’t for you really.  It’s for somebody else.  You stress out!”

“Rather not have a one night party than be in debt.”

“I had one and it was fun, but it was in the moment.  I’d rather have the money for college now.”

“You can always crash someone else’s Quince!” (Ensuing laughter).

“College will allow me to support my family.”

What percentage of the U.S. Latino community can afford to give their child both a Quince AND money for college?  Beats me.  You have to be rich to have enough for both.  What about financial aid?  Should Latino parents rely on financial aid for their teen daughters, and go through with a Quince anyway?  Sounds very irresponsible.

My little sister, Ariana, who is 15 years younger will be graduating from San Diego State in May.  She qualified for a healthy compliment of financial aid, worked all five years part-time, and still owes $28K in student loans!  By the way, she decided against a Quince as a 14-year-old.  College is so expensive that even receiving an optimal financial aid package won't keep a student from incurring debt.  Students with full rides are about the only ones these days graduating college financially alive.

Though I may end up crucified for saying it…the Quince is an antiquated tradition that needs to die in the U.S. and remain in Latin America.  What's the message of a Quince?  If you behave (not have sex, get good grades, do what we ask of you, etc.) one day we'll throw you a party where you get to dress up like a princess and have your own special day.  And how is the Quince validated over the course of the young lady's life?  Mom gets to share pictures of her Quince.  Tia Maria gets to do the same.  The older cousins, Tania, Bertha, and Elizabeth, who all had a Quince, get in on the indoctrination action.  By the time the young lady, Quince to be, reaches 14, she's a nervous, anxious, mess.  Either she can't wait for her party or she can't wait for her party to come and go.  They waste like 6 months of mental energy at school thinking of all the things to do before the Quince.  Practice the dance, buy the dress, etc.

Look, I appreciate cultural traditions and have been to many Quince parties.  My older sister, Claudia, in fact had a Quince.  I was often invited while a teacher in San Jose, to be in attendance at a pupil's Quince fiesta.  So, I'm not going to get in anyone's face and tell them that instead of spending money on a Quince, they should have designated the savings for their daughter's college fund.  And if college isn't happening, then save it for the wedding! However, maybe the U.S. Latino community should take the time to talk about how our cultural traditions shape the minds of our children and whether or not they cause more harm than good for our people.  Somebody get a hold of Jorge Ramos!

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