URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — As an adult, you usually want the birthdays to slow down. As a kid, they cannot come fast enough. That is especially true for a young Latina nearing her 15th birthday.

“You get all of these really wonderful, big, and creative celebrations where there’s color, there’s life, and there’s sparkly stuff as you can see in this exhibit,” explains U of I doctoral student Stephanie Perez.

The Spurlock Museum is hosting an exhibit called, “Quinceañeras: Celebration, Joy, and Ethnic Pride.”

A team of two professors and two doctoral students brought it to life.

The quinceañera is transnational, celebrated by Hispanic families in the United States and overseas in places like Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

“Some people date it back to the indigenous era. Some other people don’t. But definitely, it was brought to the United States by immigrants,” says U of I research professor Dr. Angharad Valdivia. “It was resurrected, in a way, in the 60s when there was this wave of ethnic pride…Chicano pride.”

It is that sense of pride that makes it an essential celebration.

“Regardless of income, people really do invest a lot in this celebration, explains Dr. Valdivia. “It’s kind of like going to Disneyland. It’s very expensive, but people still manage to afford going into Disneyland.”

It is an important milestone in the life of a 15-year-old girl that combines religious ritual and party.

“In Catholic tradition, you would go to a mass where you get anointed by a priest, you get blessed by your godparents, you alter a floral bouquet to the alter of The Virgin Mary or La Virgen de Guadalupe depending on your culture,” says Perez. “There’s that performance element that is inherent throughout the whole celebration.”

Girls typically select of court of friends and cousins close in age. They perform a waltz, a fun surprise dance, and usually a father-daughter dance. It all requires weeks of practice with a choreographer.

The outfit is the most central element. Traditionally, it is ball gowns or princess-like dresses fit to your personal style.

The quinceañera is incomplete without an elaborate food display and a cake matching the color theme of the party.

It is also like a big family reunion in honor of the birthday girl.

“You get to see your family maybe once or twice a year all together, and [ my quince] was one of those occasions where we still talk about [it],” recalls Perez.

It is about making a statement and sharing your coming of age story.

“It’s a way for a girl to say I am here. I matter. And I am making decisions about this celebration and, ipso facto, about my life,” says Dr. Valdivia.

The exhibit will be at the Spurlock Museum through December 4, 2022.