Cuban-American teens adapting family traditions to suit their needs.
As a little girl, Carina De La Paz never wanted to have a quince to celebrate her 15th birthday.
She did not want the big flowing gown, the ballroom filled with decorations, the music, the crying parents.
For some girls, the dream of having a quinceañera is not as appealing as it used to be. Many young Cuban-Americans are moving away from common traditions such as eating Cuban food, speaking Spanish, dancing salsa, attending church and dating only within the Cuban community.
“I went to my cousin’s quince and realized that the party was for everyone but her,” De La Paz, 18, said. “She spent more than half the night kissing everyone on the cheek. She didn’t get to enjoy it fully.”
Instead of having a quince as her mother, grandmother, aunts and cousin did, De La Paz took a two-week Mediterranean cruise, with stops in Italy, Greece and Croatia. She made this choice, she said, because she would rather spend money for an experience than a party.
Danielle Madrigal, 17, a senior at Miami Beach Senior High and second-generation Cuban-American, agrees.
“I found it completely ridiculous and a big waste of money,” Madrigal said.
Madrigal said she believes that because she was brought up in a more “Americanized” environment, she did not feel the need to have a quince. Her mother did not have a quince, either.
At a young age, Madrigal became fluent in Spanish. She now does not use the language, and has mostly forgotten it. Her father is the only member of the family of four who still speaks Spanish and uses it at home.
Beliefs such as De La Paz’s and Madrigal’s are not rare.
It is not only quinces that young Cuban-Americans are moving away from. Several young Cuban-Americans do not know how to speak Spanish, affecting relationships within the family.
“My Cuban relatives mostly speak Spanish, so we do not communicate much,” Madrigal said.
The household situation for Adriana Chait, 16, a Cuban-American junior at Miami Beach Senior High, differs.
“My mom says that whoever does not speak Spanish in her home doesn’t eat,” she said. “I surely don’t starve at home.”
“It’s just not, and never was, an option for Adriana not to speak Spanish,” said Magaly Chait, a 50-year-old bookkeeper who works from home. “It would be unacceptable.”
Not only are there differences between the young Cuban-Americans and their Cuban relatives, but the teens themselves disagree. Madrigal can tolerate some Cuban food but does not enjoy it much because it is composed of “mostly starches and lard.”
Her parents, on the other hand, like to eat vaca frita, Cuban shredded beef, and caldo gallego, Spanish Galician soup, typical Cuban food.
Daniel Mejido, 18, a graduate of Miami Beach Senior High who will attend Cornell University, said he does not care about the nutritional value of Cuban food. He says the food is a main part of his culture and he loves it.
“Learning to cook is a must in a Cuban family,” Mejido said.
Dancing salsa plays a large role in Cuban culture. The loud music, swift foot movement and nonstop arm swinging set the scene for a traditional Cuban party. Chait claims to have the rhythm because she is Hispanic; Mejido claims to dance “a mean Salsa”; and Madrigal asserts that she does not know how to dance at all.
“I do not want to learn how to dance to Cuban traditional music,” Madrigal said. “I do not feel that it would accomplish anything.”
Additionally, religion has become a contentious topic for some young Cuban-Americans.
“I’m not devout, though older generations of my family are,” Mejido said. “I just pray along to avoid problems within the family.”
Besides situations in which the Cuban-American youth disagree with older generations, there are also cases in which the parents themselves are not religiously affiliated and therefore do not enforce it.
The topic of relationships does not bring much concern in Mejido’s family.
“My family has been pretty slack about dating,” Mejido said. “They prefer I date someone of Cuban origin but don’t really care.”
Chait’s family also does not have any problems with dating someone outside the Cuban community.
“They don’t care what nationality or race my significant other is,” she said. “They care more about morals and how the individual carries himself.’’
Cuban-American teens, like Chait, are taking old traditions and giving them a modern twist. Modern celebrations of old traditions are becoming more commonplace with South Florida teens.
Several cruise-ship lines offer “Quince Cruises” for girls to celebrate with their family and friends on the high seas. Many girls celebrate their 15th birthday together in one night but are each given individual attention throughout the evening.
“There were about 20 girls in total and most of them were from Miami,” Chait said. “We spent time on a seven-day cruise together and there’d be a photographer and cameraman going around at the ports and around the ship.”
Generations within Cuban-American families are learning to live together and adapt to social changes.
“My parents don’t mind the American lifestyle,” Mejido said. “They have their complaints like any other parent would, but they let me be. They’ve come to terms with that fact that lifestyles and society change with time.”