Strictly speaking, the Hispanic identity is a bureaucratic creation: the term appeared four decades ago as a box to tick on federal government forms. To this day it obscures the diversity of Americans from Spanish-speaking backgrounds (some of whom can barely speak Spanish). And yet, since that artificial birth, the Hispanic identity has taken on life, uniting the cultures of incomers from Mexico and Latin America to the Caribbean.
According to the Census Bureau, every day 200 Hispanic girls turn 15 in Texas. By the time today’s newborn Texans reach their quinceañeras, that number is projected to hit 300 a day (nationally, the numbers are roughly five times as large). According to a straw poll of party planners, a “normal” Texan quinceañera budget starts at $10,000. The custom is spreading. One of those polled, Eric Silva, says that more than a dozen Anglo, black and Indian-American families have asked for a quinceañerarather than a more typically American Sweet Sixteen party in the past two years—though Anglos don’t spend very much, he sniffs.The cost of such parties is, like the cost of weddings these days, a bit of a mystery to me. Less mysterious were the origins of such parties, which put girls on display for potential suitors. Thankfully, teenage marriages and motherhood are receding among all ethnic groups in this country, as in Mexico as well.