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Group launches effort to make Latina quinceañeras a voter engagement event

"Nothing congregates or builds communities in Latino culture like quinceañeras,” activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramírez says.
Image: Fatima Hernandez
Fatima Hernandez, from left, is shielded from the sun as she walks through the grounds of Mission San Jose where she was having her quinceanera photos taken, in San Antonio on June 8, 2017.Eric Gay / AP file

AUSTIN — In the world of quinceañeras, there are padrinos (godparents) and a Mass, the chambelanes and damas (boy and girl attendants), a waltz, and possibly soon — voter registration.

On Monday, Jolt Initiative, a Texas-based Latino civic participation advocacy group, launched an effort to get young Latinas preparing to celebrate their quinceañeras to register their ceremonies with its Poder Quince/Quince Power campaign.

The quinceañera is a rite of passage celebration when a girl turns 15. But it also often is a celebration that brings together lots of extended family, as well as friends. These are potential Latino voters, say Jolt organizers.

“Second to churches, this is the best way to reach Latinos. Nothing congregates or builds communities in Latino culture like quinceañeras,” said Cristina Tzintzún Ramírez , founder and executive director of the nonprofit.

According to Jolt, there are 50,000 quinceañeras held across Texas every year. While they may still be a novelty in some parts of the United States, in Texas they are very mainstream, Tzintzún said.

The group has relied on the quinceañera previously for its work. It staged a colorful protest in 2017 at the Texas Capitol where young Latinas turned their quinceañeara dresses into protest uniforms.

The Texas electorate in 2020 will be the youngest and most Latino pool of voters ever, according to the group. Half of the young people turning 18 now are Hispanic and 95 percent of young Latinos in the state are U.S. citizens — meaning they have the right to vote.

For those who doubt tradition can be molded to a new purpose, Tzintzún points out that quinceañeras now can feature choreographed or "surprise" dances and other trends.

"We are building a culture of voting empowerment through one of the most important traditions that exist in our community," she said.

A familial celebration, the quinceañera marks the time a young girl moves into womanhood. Tzintzún said tapping into the quinceañera honors the tradition and the community, but also recognizes the role Latinas are playing in driving political change in the state.

Texas Latinas ages 18 to 24 are 25 percent more likely to vote than their male counterparts and 5 percent more likely to vote than their non-Latina female counterparts, according to research by the group.

The group hopes young girls will incorporate into their celebration a speech to guests about the power that the Latino community can exercise and about their right to vote. Even if the celebrants and their friends are too young to vote, many of their guests won’t be.

"For us, this is about community, not just politics," Tzintzún said. "We want to defend and honor the community and what better way than to lift up the power of our vote in the community, particularly with half of all those turning 18 in our state (being) Latino?"

There are numerous boutiques that cater to quinceañeras, along with quinceañera conventions and expos.

Jolt Initiative is hoping to have signups at some of those locations and events, as well as recruit some “quinceañera influencers”, who are popular online for their videos showing girls how to do their makeup, hair and other preparations for their celebrations, Tzintzún said.

“When we use the power of Latino culture, we can shape the narrative, reach millions of Latinos and build long-term voting power to win our community, the dignity and respect we deserve,” Tzintzún said.

The group plans to attend 15 quinceañeras a week in Austin, Dallas and Houston and register 5,000 people to vote in the campaign’s first eight months.

Girls who sign up to participate will get a free photo booth at their event, Snapchat filters tailored for their venue, and for one winner -- a celebrity appearance.