On Wednesday, a group of 15 teenage girls, dressed in brightly colored gowns, stood in front of the Texas State Capitol to participate in one of Latin American culture’s most cherished traditions: the quinceañera.
But this quinceañera was more than simply a coming-of-age celebration. Instead, it was a public protest against one of the most viciously anti-immigrant pieces of legislation in Texas’ recent history: SB4, the so-called “sanctuary cities bill.”
SB4—which essentially forces Texas cities to comply with federal immigration law enforcement actions—has been one of the state’s most hotly contested pieces of legislation all year, drawing comparisons to Arizona’s infamous “papers please” law, and prompting massive protests.
Dubbed “Quinceañera at the Capitol,” the protest was organized by Latino advocacy group Jolt, which describes itself on Facebook as a “Texas-based multi-issue organization that builds the political power and influence of Latinos in our democracy.”
In the description for the protest on the “Quinceañera at the Capitol” Facebook page, organizers explained:
In Latino culture, Quinceañeras are an important tradition that highlight the bonds of family, community, culture and bring people together through celebration.
This is the spirit of the Quinceañera at the Capitol event: to celebrate the resistance to SB4 by highlighting our commitment to our communities and culture. After all, SB4 isn’t just about politics: it will sow fear and distrust into our communities and break apart our families. To resist this harmful and hateful law, we will draw on the incredible power within the very communities that SB4 will affect.
The protest featured remarks from the teens, as well as a dance performance to “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” from the Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton mixtape, and Los Tigres Del Norte’s “Somos Más Americanos,” choreographed by the girls.
The teens then met with Texas state lawmakers to advocate against SB4 and highlight its effect on Texas’ immigrant communities. To those legislators who spoke out against the bill, the teens offered handmade flowers, and to SB4's authors, the girls shared information about the state’s immigrant community. Some of the girls participating in the event are, themselves, reportedly undocumented immigrants. The group is also using SB4 as a way to rally the state’s Latinx population to hold lawmakers more accountable in future elections.
“For us, it’s not just this one day of action to celebrate our culture and community, to answer hate with love and pride,” Jolt founder and executive director Cristina Tzintzún explained to me over the phone. She continued: “It’s also really the launching of a long-term movement to build power for the Latino community, to win our community the respect and dignity that we deserve. Because we make up 40% of the state’s population. Legislators think that they can pass a far-reaching anti-immigrant, anti-Latino bill without consequence. And we want to show that the exact opposite is true.”
According to Tzintzún, around 250 people showed up to rally with the teens on the steps of the Texas capitol building on Wednesday.
“Some people said that it was the best protest and event they’d ever been to,” she told me. “That it was the most inspiring because it was also a call to action, but was done in a way that used art as power to show that resistance is beautiful.”