Laura Plummer

Investigating Quinceañera in Puerto Rico

Laura Plummer

Using an International Research Opportunities Program (IROP) grant from the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research, Laura Plummer traveled to Puerto Rico to investigate quinceañera, the Latin American cultural practice celebrating a 15-year-old girl’s transition to womanhood. She published a research article about her experience in Inquiry, UNH's online undergraduate research journal.

After graduating from UNH in 2007, Laura became a family and child advocate at a domestic abuse shelter in Roxbury, a notoriously dangerous neighborhood of Boston. In 2009 she began working for the MSPCC of greater Boston, where she is a home-visiting case manager for the Connecting Families program. She writes, "Both at the shelter and at my current job, a large number of my clients are Spanish-speaking. My clients come are mostly from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, but a growing percentage are from Guatemala, Colombia, and Chile . . . One of my goals for the future is to work for a non-profit organization in Latin America dedicated to improving the lives of orphans and street children."

Here is a note from Laura, sent in August 2006 as she neared completion of her IROP project.

When I turned fifteen, I was a freshman in high school, a skinny ninth-grader whose major concerns in life were boys, singing, and a close-knit group of girlfriends who I'd more or less grown up with.

When the ninth of December rolled around, as it did every year, I invited six or seven close friends to the house for a birthday get-together. Mom made lasagna, and a chocolate cake with white Pillsbury frosting. My friends sang, I blew out the candles, and we listened to music while I opened gifts. While a special occasion, it was no more memorable than the fourteen that had come before it and the many that would come after. Fifteen, after all, is just another year in North American culture.

This is not the case in Latin America.

In nearly every country where Spanish is spoken, a girl's fifteenth birthday is celebrated as a sacred and time-honored rite of passage.

Called the 'quinceañera' (made up of the Spanish words for 'fifteen' and 'years'), the celebration has roots in ancient indigenous ceremonies as well as European traditions introduced during the Spanish colonization of Latin America.

While every country (and indeed every individual girl) celebrates the quinceañera differently, there are common ties across all cultures: firstly, that it represents a young girl’s transition into womanhood; and secondly, that it is often as elaborate and as expensive as a wedding.

I took my knowledge of the quinceañera to Puerto Rico this past summer to investigate how it is celebrated on the island commonwealth. I researched the differences in how the ceremony is played out in the island's mountainous interior, as opposed to the metropolitan area of San Juan. I also paid close attention to how social class and a family's wealth affect the grandeur of the celebration.

Discovering how the quinceañera in Puerto Rico has evolved through the generations, I was able to draw conclusions as to its future on the island, and what remained of its social significance.

While I pride myself in knowing that this project was carried out independently and of my own design, I never would have had this opportunity were it not for the UNH International Research Opportunities Program (IROP).

IROP has changed my life for the better. I came away from my experience in Puerto Rico with a better understanding of my world. The experience greatly substantiated my majors in Spanish and International Affairs, as well as my Women's Studies minor. My language abilities are markedly improved.

Over all, I learned many valuable life lessons abroad that I would not have encountered in my own relatively tranquil southern New Hampshire community.