Story by Amanda Karney
Cultural identity plays a key role in the Latino community with certain traditions that are slowly evolving over time.
Established in 1999, Vanessa’s boutique sells countless quinceañera and prom dresses. Much like any regular dress store, the company receives orders from numerous designers to give customers a custom look to their specific dress.
However, Vanessa’s Boutique not only sells custom-made dresses, they also take the role of planning the entire event, and being a part of the special day, especially for a young lady’s quinceañera.
A quinceañera is a 15th birthday celebration of a girl entering womanhood, a common tradition among many Latin American countries.
Sandy Gonzalez, a part-time sales associate at Vanessa’s, started her job there after her quinceañera in high school and said she has noticed a change in traditions and the wa y people plan each individual party.
Much like a wedding, these celebrations have a color scheme and are strategically planned out around the budget and mainly the dress. But the style of dresses and the way people celebrate this holiday varies from family to family.
“Now the dresses are multi-colored. It’s not just a white or pink dress,” Gonzalez said.
The quinceañera celebration has changed even in the last few years. Girls are beginning to wear cowboy boots or Vans for a more casual feel to the party itself. Others will buy two dresses, one for the religious ceremony and another for the party afterwards, Gonzalez said.
Working at Vanessa’s for roughly seven years, Gonzalez has become fascinated with the differences in traditions and what is accepted today for a typical quinceañera celebration. She enjoys helping people and giving advice to young girls who were just like her, eager to plan a fancy celebration.
For Shegufta Upama, a Baylor freshman from Bangladesh, wearing a hijab is a daily and necessary task that is a huge part of how she practices her faith.
“I do it because I am Muslim,” Upama said. “I’ve submitted my will to God and God commands Muslim women to cover themselves up, and that’s why I do it.”
A hijab is a head covering commonly worn by Muslim women. Many Muslim American women wear the hijab with common American-style clothing and shoes.
Upama does not follow what is popular and is in no way forced to wear a hijab, despite the many stereotypes that Muslim women are always under forceful rule, especially by men.
“I don’t do it because someone is forcing me, or because it is a cultural symbol,” she said. “I just do it because I’m Muslim.”
Deciding to attend a Christian university while also practicing the Islam faith is a struggle for Upama, who said she feels alienated and out of place sometimes because there are very few practicing Muslims.
She came to the U.S. to get a good education and to be closer to some relatives in Texas, including her older sister who will be arriving in months to come. Her parents suggested she attend a school near someone she knows in order to have a little bit of home in America.
Although still a devout Muslim, she said she has compromised in terms of what she chooses to wear because of the environment here in America.
“If I was in my hometown, I would wear the abaya, the black cloak,” she said. “I just thought it would be too much for people to accept it here.”
The abaya is a long dress that fits loosely and completely covers the body from head to toe, leaving a window for the eyes. She continues to accompany her hijab with American clothes that fully cover her arms and legs as well as American style shoes to fit in more on campus.
Although she hasn’t had anyone point it out, Upama said students will turn their heads when they see that she wears a hijab to class. She says she notices a general “Islamophobic” attitude in the news media.
Despite the obvious contrast between what she practices and what Baylor students are used to, she said she enjoys her time at Baylor.
“For the most part, you know, the classes are great. I love my professors. People are so nice.”
In contrast, Felicia Patel doesn’t feel the need to wear her cultural garb every day.
The Baylor junior from northern California wears traditional Indian clothing during special occasions with her family to keep her culture alive.
Many of her peers and people around her do not question her cultural clothing because it is not seen on a daily basis. Only people who know her background will take interest in the subject.
Patel said she has been wearing traditional Indian clothing ever since she can remember and is comfortable in this clothing, especially around those who dress like her.
“They help remind me of where I come from and my cultural background,” she said.
Identifying herself as a Hindu, Felicia would wear a sari for cultural reasons, rather than religious.
A sari is a long garment, usually hand-woven and made of silk or cotton that is draped around the body, usually made in vibrant colors and typically worn by women.
Most of her extended family in the U.S. and the UK also continue these traditions but do not wear them daily, except some of her grandparents who are native-born Indians.
A sari can also be used for traditional three-day Indian weddings where the bride will wear red, instead of the American traditional white dresses. Additionally, women will wear lots of jewelry, sparkly bracelets and temporary henna tattoos to complement the vibrant-colored fabric that makes up a sari and to bring good luck to the bride.
For special occasions like these, Patel and her family will stay in cultural clothing.
“We don’t wear them to the mall and stuff,” she said.
Patel said she hopes to continue celebrating her culture and potentially raise her children in the same way she was raised. She said she feels that many traditions and culture become lost when people assimilate with American culture or try to fit in with the norm.
Patel said she would still like to fit in without losing her cultural identity.
“Everyone wants to fit in,” she said.