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Claudia is a shy, stout adolescent, but today she looks like a princess in a fluorescent fairy tale as she dances in her electric blue gown and jewel-encrusted sneakers for the 250 guests at her 15th birthday party in Mexico City.More than 4,000 kilometers away in Colombia, Catalina is also wearing bright blue for her 15th birthday, though she has opted for the traditional high heels – which her grandmother knelt to slip on her feet in a symbolic welcome to womanhood.This is the "quinceanera," or Sweet 15, when Latin American families traditionally pull out all the stops to celebrate their daughters' birthdays with a lavish rite of passage.After a one-hour photo session, a white Hummer limousine took Claudia to church for a Mass in her honor.Claudia, who shies from the spotlight and rarely wears makeup, hesitated about having a Sweet 15, said her mother, who is also named Claudia.The quinceanera fits into the tradition of coming-of-age rituals around the world, including Sweet 16 parties in the United States.Such subtle shifts hint at the changing role of women in Latin America, where more than 70 million women have joined the workforce in the last 20 years, swelling the ranks of the middle class.
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