In 1982, Rosalinda Acosta arrived in South Carolina with her family to pick tomatoes. She was 7 years old. She worked hard, saved her money, and now she owns a thriving business, called Picky and Clean, Inc., with six employees of her own. Now she wants to give her four children the opportunities she never had. Her oldest daughter Mary’s quinceañera was an extravagant celebration that was not only her 15th birthday party, but a dream fulfilled for her mother.

Complete with horse-drawn carriage and glass slipper ice sculpture, the party was an elaborate ritual accompanied by chambelanes (escorts) in white military uniforms. Early formal dances gave way to a dance floor filled with a diverse group of teens from Summerville High. Blaring hip-hop dance anthems blended with the staccato polka beats of top-40 ranchero music.

A few weeks later, another local latina, Griselda Figueroa, had her party at the community center on Wadmalaw surrounded by close family and friends. Her mother, Herminia Pioquinto, cooked much of the food and greeted family from inside the kitchen. Griselda’s friends were mostly Hispanic and her chambelanes wore old school zoot suits. Griselda is a tenth grader at Garrett Academy of Technology and plans to raise a family here, but her newlywed sister Beatrice is returning to Mexico, where they still have close family ties.

Common throughout Latin America, a quinceañera (15th birthday) marks a girl’s transition into womanhood. The trappings of childhood — dolls and little girl shoes — are replaced by a final doll (Última Muñeca) and fancy high heels. Gifts of jewelry, Bibles, a tiara, and an elaborate and formal dress ar also offered. The parties are usually the result of community support, with money donated from honorary godparents called padrinos.

To Hispanics in South Carolina, the quinceañera represents a connection to their culture and a chance to affirm family and community ties. It’s also a chance to throw one hell of a party and dance all night long.

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