Marybel Gonzalez '16 M.S. | Columbia Journalism School
Marybel Gonzalez '16 M.S.
She is a fellow at CNN Investigative Unit in New York

Marybel Gonzalez '16 M.S.

While reporting for class, I found a small bridal and quinceañera shop in East Harlem. I spoke to the store owner who updated me on all the latest trends and fashion within these celebrations. Growing up in a Mexican household, I was familiar with quinceañera. However, a lot of what the store owner told me came as a surprise. For example, I learned some of the girls were now buying vibrant, colorful gowns instead of dresses in white and pastel colors.

Other girls were waiting until their 16th birthday instead of the traditional 15th to celebrate their quinceañera. I found this to be quiet interesting and I decided to visit other quinceañera stores, businesses and churches to find out if this was truly a new trend. I went to businesses in Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem and interviewed many families in the planning stages of their daughter’s quinceañera. I found that the quinceañera celebration was in fact changing and in a sense becoming an Americanized celebration with many of the traditional trappings. And many of these parties were increasingly lavish and costly. I spoke to experts who supported these findings and noted that the quinceañera has become a symbol of changing identity for many Latinos living in the United States.

During winter break I did additional reporting in Mexico City. I visited several quinceañera stores and spoke with local about the traditional celebration. Although I did not end up using any of that material in my master’s project, I wanted to get a sense of how the quinceañera was celebrated in Mexico and if these had changed in the same way as in the United States. When I returned to New York City, I went on a mission to find a family planning a quinceañera, whose celebration exemplified all the modern changes I witnessed. This process proved difficult. Most quinceañeras in New York City, I came to find out, are held in the spring. Because of the cold weather, families will typically wait until the end of winter to celebrate their daughter’s quinceañeras.

After a couple months of searching, I finally found the Cedillo family. Lucero Cedillo, the quinceañera, was truly the modern day celebrant. Lucero was turning 16 and she incorporated both old and new elements into her quinceañera. I attended both her Catholic mass and the after party in Brooklyn.

My advisor, Paula Span, was instrumental in getting my master’s project published. She challenged me to cast a wide net in my reporting. She gave me direction every time I came into her office and brainstormed ideas on structure. Paula gave a copy of my final master’s project to the editor of the metro section at The New York Times who expressed interest in the topic. With the help of Paula, I edited my long form piece and submitted a final 1,500-word version along with photographs to The New York Times.

Read her article in The New York Times.