Publication details [#54662]

Potowski, Kim and Lillian Gorman. 2011. Hybridized tradition, language use, and identity in the U.S. Latina quinceañera ritual. In Potowski, Kim and Jason Rothman, eds. Bilingual Youth. Spanish in English-speaking societies. (Studies in bilingualism 42). John Benjamins. pp. 57–87.
Publication type
Article in book
Publication language
Language as a subject
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins


The quinceañera, a rite of passage marking the 15th birthday of a Latina girl, is an important site of language and identity enactment. Past research (Horowitz­ 1993; Davalos 1996; Cantú 1999, 2002; and Alvarez 2007) provides ample evidence of the shifting nature of the quinceañera tradition in the U.S., yet none address language use in depth. Given that non-English languages like Spanish are rarely spoken in the U.S. beyond the grandchildren of immigrants, and the fact that language proficiency does not necessarily play a central role in the construction of Latino/a ethnic identity, this study seeks to identify the ways in which the Spanish language still plays a role in U.S. quinceañeras. Survey responses were analyzed from 384 students attending nine different high schools in Chicago, Illinois. This paper explored responses that described Chicago quinceañeras generally, connections between this celebration and Latina identity, and the roles of Spanish within the enactments of quinceañeras. It concludes that quinceañeras in Chicago simultaneously bolster and reflect Spanish language use in the family. There was, however, some degree of hybridization involving the use of English in several arenas. But for the time being, at least among first and second generation Chicago Latinas, the quinceañera provides a domain for Spanish language use and ethnic identity performance.