15: A QUINCEAÑERA STORY, directed by Emmy winner Matthew O’Neill and Mexican soap opera star and Latin Grammy-winner musician Thalia, is a collection of four short documentary films of five different teens as they start the traditional rite of passage into adulthood. Beyond the puffy, pastel-colored dresses, multi-layered cakes, and el vals, or waltz dance numbers, is the face of girls shaping their own identities, cherishing their unique upbringings, and wearing them all as badges of honor.
Set to debut on HBO this Tuesday, December 19th, the films each showcase a unique side of the Latinx experience we don’t often get to see. In a year replete with women raising their voices and telling their stories, it’s refreshing to see girls who are unapologetically Latina and give us a clear picture of their experiences in 2017.
One short features Zoey from Southern California, who was assigned male at birth but identifies as female and began her transition in middle school. Free-spirited and tongue-in-cheek, Zoey will remind you of the nights you sat propped up in bed with your sister or cousin or girlfriend talking about school, music, and boys. It’s her carefree and invigorating attitude that brings you back to the time you were young and hungry to eat the whole world, not knowing how but knowing you wanted to do it anyway. Zoey soon learns that she has to fight for her rights and make sure she isn’t treated differently, more so than other girls her age. Her family sues her school district when she is encouraged to transfer to another school for being a trans kid. With assistance of the ACLU, she wins her case—a rare victory for families who don’t have the resources to do so.
Zoey gathers a court of madrinas or godmothers for her party. “They are all trans women,” she says, smiling and rolling her eyes, “it’s kinda my theme.” Her humor makes us laugh, but it also makes us understand that she’s aware of her life story —how different it is from other girls’— and how she will not shy away from it, but rather proudly claim it as part of herself. There’s a moment in the documentary when one of the godmothers tells Zoey, “You represent love, hope, and fierceness.” Zoey beams with happiness. We know she is all three in one.
Across the country in Florida we have Rosi, whose quince is set to take place in Cuba because her abuelo wasn’t granted a visa to enter the U.S. The daughter of Guatemalan and Cuban parents, Rosi is graceful and composed; there’s a quiet elegance in the way she carries herself, traced back to her humble beginnings. Her parents are office janitors who, at times, require her siblings’ help, even Rosi’s, to get work done. But she doesn’t hold resentment against her family, a measure that not many young girls her age could wrap their minds around. Rosi has a good grasp of her parents’ sacrifice for being in this country, chasing the American dream. A key scene in the film is when we follow them to one of their many cleaning jobs. At her most vulnerable, we see Rosi cry in front of the camera, bearing both her own pain and her parents’. Weighed down with a sense of responsibility, Rosi hides the tears from her mom, who’s cleaning in the other end of the office. It’s Rosi’s hyper-awareness in tandem with her cultural pride that will resonate with many first-generation teens who loudly and proudly speak about their background.
Contrary to Zoey’s film —which turns the camera to the women in her life— here we focus on the men in Rosi’s life. When we travel to Cuba, we meet Rosi’s grandfather, who is one of the biggest reasons she decides to have the party on the island. Supportive and loveable, he is proud of having a granddaughter like her. Up to this point, Rosi’s dad has been the macho and gruff Latino father we all know, but that changes when he neurotically micromanages the dance numbers the off-beat choreographer is staging for Rosi. His commentary on the dance numbers, that they need more “rhythm,” are hilarious. We also get to meet Rosi’s boyfriend. Quiet and clean-shaven, he doesn’t recoil from admitting that Rosi deserves all the love she can receive. She inspires him because he knows she has shown resilience against the odds.
Also featured is Ashley, an amateur East L.A. boxer whose mother is a Dreamer and whose father has been deported. What should be an exciting moment for any quinceañera turns sour because not only is Ashley grappling with the uncertainty of her first fight, but also whether or not her coach will be at her party since he too is undergoing deportation procedures.
And finally we have Jackie and Nina, best friends from San Antonio, who decide to honor their multi-generational Mexican American heritage by mixing their joint quince with their love of escaramuza, a traditional Mexican horse-dancing display.
These quinceañeras each show us a unique cross-section of life for young Latinx women growing up today. They are a celebration of the American dream realized or reflections of that dream deferred. No matter the situation, these Latinx women are testament to the traditions and values passed on from generation to generation. It’s time to showcase young Latinx women as the heroines of their own stories, without falling into stereotypes, without the trope of the white savior. Our girls are not here to be supporting characters in a majority white narrative or to maintain the flat, one-dimensional portrayals of Latinas in Hollywood. They are showing otherwise. Take a look and listen.
15: A QUINCEAÑERA STORY debuts Tuesday, December 19th on HBO at 7:00pm ET/PT, and a new short documentary from the series will premiere each successive night at the same time for the week.