Vanesa Quiroga strutted down Kirkwood Avenue in her purple quinceañera gown. It had been eight years since she wore the fluffy birthday dress for a crowd, which had been tucked away in the back of a closet.
Quiroga, a 2020 IU graduate, and eight women modeled their quinceañera gowns around 12 p.m. Saturday for the Fiesta de Otoño, a community event organized annually for National Latinx Heritage Month by the City of Bloomington community and family resources department.
IU senior Jocelyn Euceda worked with Josefa Luce, Latino programs coordinator at the City of Bloomington, to put together this event. Euceda said Fiesta de Otoño provides information about different Latinx organizations in Bloomington and Latinx culture to celebrate the community's presence in Bloomington.
“That’s just the first step, you know?” Euceda said in an interview. “Opening someone’s mind.”
Luce and the planning committee chose a quinceañera theme for this year’s Fiesta de Otoño, meaning fall festival in Spanish, to match the 15-year anniversary of the event.
Quinceañeras are a birthday tradition and a rite of passage traditionally celebrated by Latin American and Latina girls for their 15th birthdays in the U.S. and Latin American countries. Contemporary quinceañeras involve DJs, event planners and makeup artists, according to the New York Times.
Backstage, Quiroga and the quinceañera models reminisced on their own 15th birthday celebrations. One girl wrapped her hair around a hot curling iron.
Quiroga said she couldn’t sleep before her quinceañera. It was a big deal.
The Fiesta de Otoño took place on Kirkwood Avenue between Lincoln Street and Grant Street, a section set to stay closed for pedestrians through December to allow for socially distance seating during the coronavirus pandemic. Audience members had to RSVP to the Fiesta de Otoño to allow for proper social distancing, and were required to wear masks.
The festival started at 10 a.m. Pedestrians circled around the block to hear the Mariachi Perla del Medio Oeste perform around 11:30 a.m.
Euceda, a social work major, said this is the second Fiesta de Otoño she has helped plan. She remembered her older sister’s quinceañera, for which they traveled to Puebla, Mexico, from Indianapolis to celebrate.
The event brought together Euceda’s family members from across the U.S. and Mexico. Similarly, the Fiesta de Otoño’s quinceañera brought together Latinx people in Bloomington.
“Just seeing everyone show out like that meant a lot,” Euceda said about her sister’s quinceañera.
Before this event, Quiroga said she never thought she would wear her birthday gown again. It’s like a wedding dress, she said — a gown so special, it’s only worn once.
"You associate it to one memory and one memory only," Quiroga said about wedding and quinceañera dresses.
Quiroga remembered giving a speech in memory of her deceased grandma during a mass before her quinceañera’s reception, and burning her fingers while handmaking capias, or pin-ons, for the event with her mom.
Quinceañeras are a meaningful event, where traditions are preserved and adapted to suit contemporary times.
Quiroga said It’s important for people in Bloomington, a predominantly white town, to attend culturally diverse events such as these to understand people are empowered by their differences.
“They’re not here to set us apart,” Quiroga said. “They’re here for us to learn from one another.”