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For two N.H. Latina teens, becoming a woman in the U.S. is empowering but frightening

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Gaby Lozada
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NHPR
Irma, left, and Emma Lerma, right, were inspired by Rapunzel and other princess tales when they picked their outfits for their quinceañera.

Emma and Irma Lerma emerge from their bedroom with their puffy dresses that their grandmother carefully unfolds. They bought one in Mexico and the other in Massachusetts since New Hampshire has no stores for quinceañeras.

The Lerma family comes from the Zacatecas region. They have been planning the party since 2021, and now that the day has finally arrived, they take pride in the two girls. It’s a dream come true for both of them though they say something is still missing.

“I wish we were in Mexico,” said Irma.

At their party, the sisters picked Mexican cowboy boots instead of high heels when their father changed their sneakers, demonstrating the rite of passage from girls to women. That detail, a nod to their regional roots, made them feel empowered.

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Gaby Lozada
/
NHPR
Irma and Emma bought their expensive boots from an online Mexican store. Family and friends chipped in to pay the costs of the party.

But for them being quinceañeras is more than a party and a beautiful dress.

“It means to become more responsible,” says Emma. Both girls work in a supermarket part-time and help their parents with the household costs.

“We earn very little, but we have given our parents the money so they can save for the party, too,” says Emma.

Their mother, Gabriela Dominguez, says they are very mature and good girls. She decided to wait till this year to jointly celebrate Irma’s 16th birthday with Emma’s quinceañera. She wanted to mix American and Mexican traditions.

“Through them, I am living my dream,” she said.

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Gaby Lozada
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NHPR
The quinceañeras dance with their parents. Both cried during the waltz because “this is something you only live once,” Irma said.

Emma and Irma are also attuned to what is happening in the country. They have strong opinions about reproductive rights and feel frustrated with recent abortion bans.

“I think my body is my choice, and I don’t know why those restrictions are being put on women,” Emma said. “We shouldn’t be fighting for something; it's not a privilege. It’s a right we should have.”

They say not many people at school talk about what is happening. Still, they feel motivated watching women worldwide fight for their rights and applaud those who have been fighting for years.

“They did it before; we shouldn’t give up now,” Irma said.

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Gaby Lozada
/
NHPR
As a tradition, the father gives the quinceañera a doll, the last one before they become women. “I wish I stayed a kid all my life, but I have to mature,” said Irma.

For the Lerma sisters becoming a woman is frightening because they think many people judge women’s decisions.

“Sadly, that is what is happening in this country,” said Irma.

Both want to be in the medical field when they finally have to choose a career. They hope to help other women and become role models for other Latina girls.

As for their parents, they hope their daughters do not forget that they are American but Mexican at heart.

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Gaby Lozada
/
NHPR
All uncles dance with the quinceañeras. Almost all of them wear traditional attire from northern Mexico.

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.