The following article is published in the #RGNNCuba Magazine: Vol. IV, Summer 2019, produced during ROOSTERGNN Academy’s Travel Journalism, Photography & Video Internship & Mentoring Program in Havana and Trinidad, Cuba, under the editorial direction of RGNN Expert and Mentor Juanjo Montanary. Follow #RGNNCuba for all of our Cuba coverage.

“It is very exciting because it is the change from a child to a young adult,” said Melany. Melany’s eyes sparkled and cheeks flushed as she elucidated the intricate details of planning her fiesta de Quinceañera (the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday). The combination of traditions, culture, beauty and history changes the life of a Quinceañera and is extraordinary to any other birthday celebration, as it signifies a rite of passage into womanhood. It is believed that the tradition was born when the Spanish defeaters brought it to Mexico, however, others say that it initiated with the Aztecs. 

Melany in the process of planning her quinceañera celebration. | Ellysse Horniblow

Lisett is a mother of two, a boy aged 19 and a girl named Selma, who has just turned 15. She explained that the most difficult part about planning a Quinceañera was doing it all by herself. She has handmade each decoration and invitation meticulously, as Selma carefully watched over her mother’s shoulder to ensure everything was perfect. The celebration took place during the evening in the countryside, with music of the famous bands Gente de Zona and Los 4 playing loudly in the background. Selma wore a simple, but elegant, long white dress with a floral themed bust. She matched her hair with a dusty pink flower crown. To Lisett, the most important memories from the event were the photographs on display at the birthday dinner, that exhibited a timeline of Selma’s life before her passage into young adulthood. Nowadays, the celebration combines the elements of traditional customs along with contemporary trends. Traditionally, casual photos were more popular in comparison to formal, posed photos, however, it changes with each individual.  

Selma posing for Quinceñera photoshoot. | Ellysse Horniblow

As Melany spoke, her proud older sister hurried over to join in the conversation. Marianela passionately expressed her interest and involvement in her younger sisters Quinceañera celebration. She observed Melany softly speak about her family and friends who are attending the intimate gathering in November. Melany wants the festivities to be photographed for a memorable keepsake to remember this transition. Taking Quinceañera photos at La Guardia’s grand staircase has been a tradition in Melany’s family for many years. The glistening chandeliers and the sumptuous details in architecture surrounding the cascading staircase in La Guardia form a background for Melany’s photos. La Guardia is now a lavish restaurant, that was once the home of a well-known doctor. Melany’s older sister had a big party for her 15th birthday with many friends and family. However, she hopes for a more relaxed celebration. “I am going to make it just like my mum – a small gathering with my closest people” Melany said. Marianela’s face lit up as she remembered the fond memories of her birthday. It was very clear that this day holds a wealth of importance to Melany and her whole family as it is the most important milestone in a girl’s life. 

The planning process is very similar to a wedding. The event requires the same amount of effort, time, and careful preparation in order to make it a memorable event. The family of the teenage girl commonly arrive in lavish, bright vintage cars. In preparation of the event, the girl invites her friends and family, as well as others who have made an impact on her. In recent times, some families are choosing to have a Quince Años celebration to commemorate their son’s 15th birthday. The Quince Años for a teenage boy shadows the same traditional concept of celebrating life and the transitional journey into young adulthood, with big parties, trendy outfits and pictures to remember the occasion.

Photographer taking photos of the quinceañera around the city of Havana. | Ellysse Horniblow

Edited by Julissa Ramirez.