What a quinceañera in Cuba looks like

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About 30 of Amelia Prieto’s best friends gathered on a street corner in Havana, Cuba, early one Sunday morning in March this year. They all had eager faces and numbered invitations in hand that were surrendered for a prized spot on an old rented Blue Bird school bus. The bus was bursting with energy and transported the kids to a villa about 25 miles outside the city for a private pool party.

The guests squeezed Amelia in her bright yellow party dress and offered their best birthday wishes. The year was a special one, her quinceañera. In many parts of Latin America and elsewhere, this birthday marks the transition from child to a young woman. They wrestled for candy that hit the floor after the piñata burst and flirted in tiny bikinis. After rich food, cake, underwater pranks and cans of beer, they sank into the vintage bus seats struggling to keep their eyes open on the drive back to Havana.

As Amelia ushered in her change to adulthood, Cuba is also changing as its relationship with the United States begins to thaw after the Dec. 17, 2014 announcement by Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro that the countries would begin normalizing long-broken relations. Although hot spots are creeping into the country inviting never-before-seen video chatting with long-lost relatives, and a few business deals have been agreed on, the change is quite slow. By the time the next generation of girls celebrate their quinceañera, what will the country look like?

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