A Look At A ‘Quarantinceañera:’ How Traditions Continue During A Pandemic

(From left to right) Gunner Schmidt, Adelle Pineda, Carmin Daugherty, Blanca Plascencia, Natalia Daugherty and Elia Nuñez pose for Carmin's quinceañera photos outside Central College in Pella, on Aug. 15. Carmin's two sisters Adelle and Natalia helped the photographer along with Carmin's mom Plascencia and grandmother Nuñez.

By Kassidy Arena, courtesy of Iowa Public Radio News

A quinceañera is a special event in the lives of many Latina teens. But this year, their families are trying to navigate the challenges the coronavirus pandemic presents to the traditional celebration.

Even as a pandemic sweeps across the world, people continue trying to live as normally as possible. People go to work, go to school and they even have birthday celebrations. Just in different ways.


Una Quinceañera

Carmin Daugherty grabbed two sides of her big, poofy blue dress and hustled to the next brick-walled background for her photo shoot in Pella. Her boyfriend Gunner Schmidt trailed behind her in a full suit. Although people stop to watch the girl wearing a crown and ball gown with what seems like paparazzi following her, she is not a movie star and she is not on the red carpet. She just turned 15 and she is posing for her quinceañera pictures.

Daugherty grew up in Pella, but she lives in West Des Moines now. She wanted to take her pictures in the cute town where she felt most comfortable. But pictures are all Daugherty will get. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled her plans for hosting her large, traditional quinceañera party.


“Well, at first, I was kind of frustrated because we’ve been thinking about for a long time, and I was really looking forward to it. And then everything just kind of came crumbling down,” Daugherty said. “It was really frustrating because, it really let my hopes down because I was hoping it’d be a really extremely special day that I remember for the rest of my life. Not saying today wasn’t what I will remember this for the rest of my life, but I still kinda wish that we could have celebrated in the way that we were wanting to.”

A quinceañera, a quince for short, marks the transition of a Hispanic or Latina girl into womanhood. Put simply, it’s a fancier, more religious, sweet sixteen.

Daugherty’s mom told her in March that she could not have the party they started planning in 2019. But she said it kind of worked out for the best…in a way.


“Well, I could almost say I kind of appreciate it in a way because it made me realize that life isn’t all about big parties and celebrating,” Daugherty said. “It’s more about being with your friends and family and those you love and spending time with them more than in a big beautiful dress with all the makeup in the world. You know?”

A quinceañera can cost a family tens of thousands of dollars. But Daugherty’s family saved on that, for now. Instead of a potential coronavirus hot-spot of a party, Blanca Plascencia, Daugherty’s mom, decided a photo shoot and dinner with the immediate family was safer. It was also the best way to continue representing her Mexican heritage during a pandemic.

“So, it’s important to us to continue our cultural traditions because although we are far, well we don’t want to lose them. And then maybe when my daughters have daughters, they can tell them so our traditions won’t be lost,” Plascencia said.

Lucky for Daugherty, when she asked her boyfriend Schmidt to be a part of her Mexican heritage traditions, he wasn’t confused. They go to Valley High School in West Des Moines. Schmidt said they had a whole social studies unit on quinceañeras.

“It was actually pretty nice to know what was going on before she said ‘hey my quinceañera is coming up,'” Schmidt said.

Natalia Daugherty spent most of the day watching her sister pose for the camera. She still has three years until her 15th birthday. Much to her mom’s pleasure, she does want to continue the tradition. But she wants a full party, not a just a pandemic-friendly photo shoot.

“I would choose like a party because it’s a little bit more funner than like just walking around in like really hot weather,” Natalia said.


Carmin said she absolutely sees her sister’s point. This past December, right before the pandemic hit hard, she went to a traditional quince in Mexico. She loved the dancing, the food and most importantly, all eyes were on the birthday girl. Although Daugherty did not get a crowd of loving applause, her mom Plascencia made sure the day was as perfect as it could have been. And Plascencia got her perfect moment also.

“My daughter!” Plascencia gasped. “She’s already grown up! Yes, it’s simply watching her. Watching her be happy, excited and smiling.”

Daugherty said after the pandemic subsides, she would love to have a real quinceañera. Until then, she will keep looking on the bright side.

“It was worth it. Definitely worth it,” Daugherty said while celebrating in Schmidt’s arms. “I can capture this moment forever. I can look back on it when I’m 20, 30, 40, 80 and say hey! That day was really fun. And I’m glad that I have these pictures to remember it by.”

Otra Quinceañera

Itzel Castillo started planning her quince with her mom Violeta when she was 14 years old. Since her birthday is Aug. 8, Castillo and her mom figured out pretty soon she would not have a completely conventional quinceañera. At first, all their planning was on hold when the pandemic hit.

Itzel Castillo poses for her official quince photograph. Her mom Violeta kept all the pictures to remind the family of the unconventional, yet still fun quinceañera. “I’m sure later on in the years, we’re going to go back and look at pictures with our face mask and we’re gonna laugh about it,” Violeta said. Itzel’s uncle made her a face mask to match her dress.
Photo by Jose Murillo

When Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the lockdown would be lifted, the Castillos went forth with their Plan B for a safe quinceañera. Violeta had to decide last-minute whether or not to push back the party to October, or to put all her effort into making sure her daughter could celebrate during her birthday month. She decided to try to make Itzel’s birthday as normal as possible. She stuck with August. Violeta not only needed to contact all the personnel needed for the party, like venue and caterers, she also needed to research the state’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“It was just getting all of those last minute things that I will admit it was stressful,” Violeta said with a chuckle. “I’m glad I only have one daughter because I don’t think I could do this all over again.”

Violeta works in a hospital so she knows first-hand the effects COVID-19 can have on people physically. But she didn’t want the virus to also hurt her daughter emotionally.

“Every day. I’m trying not to let COVID control my life. I try not to live in fear of what’s going to happen,” Violeta said.

Keeping the August date provided a little bit of relief for Itzel, because she knew her friends had busy schedules as it was. And her friends served an important role at her quince. They were part of her court. The quinceañera court of honor is made up of as many damas (women) and chambelanes (men) as the birthday girl wants. They accompany the birthday girl and usually perform a dance at the party.


Itzel’s and Violeta’s planning also included figuring out how many people could safely attend, making sure everyone wore masks and all the other regular birthday necessities like decorations, music and food.

“We planned as much as we could and when the day came, we were all nervous. But we were like, if people can’t come, then that’s okay. It’s just the thought that counts and that my parents were able to do this for me,” Itzel said.

Unfortunately, not everyone invited could attend, especially because the Castillos still have family in Mexico. And social distancing guidelines limited attendance for some.

Violeta advised Itzel to simply have fun with those who could come and enjoy the day as much as possible.

Itzel said she did: “It made me happy that we were still able to [celebrate]. And people can still come together during times like these and like, still enjoy and celebrate something like this,” she said.

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