You see all this family and community energy, time, money, resources mobilized around the young girl for this party. It should not be about just one night, but about the girl and what happens afterward in her life.
— Bisli in Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA by Julia Alvarez
When I think about my quinceañera now, I don’t think too much about the party or the Mass. Sure those things were nice, but without seeing the video or flipping through a photo album, I forget a lot of the details and how I felt. Naturally, the more vivid memories come from all the time preparing for the big day with the help of lots of family and friends (a do-it-yourself quinceañera, if you will).
I remember the 15 chambelanes horsing around in the backyard as Adriana, my neighbor, choreographed the waltz. I remember being fitted for my dress by my tía Ana and being told that one arm was slightly longer than the other. I remember when my tía Luisa — who shares a birthday with me and did my hair and makeup — took me to get first manicure and when she found both a red and white hair while practicing my hairdo. I remember admiring the invitation envelopes, addressed in fancy calligraphy by my mom’s co-workers. I remember my mom and sister making all kinds of recuerdos and cutting out dozens of butterflies for the centerpieces and cake.
I remember my dad listening to tapes of many different mariachi groups to make sure he picked a good one. I remember getting photos and music together so that my tío Chuy could begin working on the video, which would include a photo montage of me growing up. And I remember talking to my cousin Tony about what kind of music I’d like him to play when it came time for him to DJ.
Later, I’d learn social scientists call this network of family and friends “social capital,” which sociologist James Coleman identified as useful and “productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that in its absence would not be possible” (1988).
At 14, I saw it as family and friends showing how much they cared about me and my family. I thought that was the way it should be.
It took me a while to realize that my family and I were blessed.