‘I Don’t Need Validation’: This Teen Wrestles With Cultural Identity As The Pandemic Threatens Her Quinceañera

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10min 33sec
Courtesy of Nadia Rivera
Because of the pandemic, 14-year-old Nadia Rivera will likely have to celebrate her quinceañera differently than she imagined.

The coronavirus pandemic didn't stop the clock when it sent us home, especially not for teens. Young people are missing dances, internships and so much more. 

When Nadia Rivera pictured her quinceañera as a little kid, she imagined “Cinderella's ball.” Now that she’s just months away from that big 15th birthday, she still wanted “a lot of glitter ... big dresses and super fancy decorations.” 

Beyond the dress and the fun, Rivera’s been preparing to celebrate this milestone by learning to speak Spanish fluently and keeping her grades up in school.

“Since this is a big cultural thing, my parents wanted me to do something to embrace that culture. I have to be able to prove to them that I am mature enough to have this symbolism of coming into womanhood.” said Rivera, whose parents are from Guatemala and Nicaragua. 

Her birthday is in August though, and with vaccines rolling out slowly across the country, she’s losing hope that it will be safe to throw the party she’s dreamed of for so long. 

She said it’s sad to think of her “little 5-year-old self being heartbroken.” Rivera also reflected on her deeper disappointment in missing an elaborate celebration.

“My quinceañera is a big thing for me because it's sort of like validation for myself. I've always had a problem with my identity because I would get teased or picked on because I didn't like spicy foods. So I wasn't a ‘real Latino,’ ... At the same time, I would still experience racism and people calling me racial slurs,” she said. “I still am figuring out how to embrace my culture or if I even need to prove anything at all.”

In the pandemic, she’s learned to lean on her family for support and encouragement that she can be secure in her Latinx identity — even without a big quinceañera.

“Just being around my family and talking about stories and things like that, and just having fun is really what makes me feel at home and what makes me feel like I don't need validation because I know [my identity],” Rivera said.

Nadia Rivera lives in Aberdeen, MD. She is an editorial adviser for Cultures of Dignity, an organization founded by Rosalind Wiseman of Boulder that advocates for young people’s physical and emotional wellbeing. 

This profile is based on a panelist interview for “Call to Mind Presents: Life’s Not On Hold – Teens Navigate Missed Milestones.” On Jan. 28, 2021, Colorado Public Radio’s Avery Lill will lead a discussion with and for teens to share their experiences, along with licensed therapist and school social worker Feliz Fraser, and Rosalind Wiseman, teen mental health advocate and author of “Queen Bees and Wannabes.” The discussion will explore the losses teens have faced during the pandemic and solutions for navigating this turbulent time in their lives.

Editor's note: a previous version of this story said incorrectly, Rivera's "parents are from Honduras and Nicaragua." They are from Guatemala and Nicaragua.