I used to be a bit miffed that I never got to have a quinceañera. No ballgown, no party with 300 people, no mariachi serenade. Even the Jewish girls got bat mitzvahs (even if having to learn Hebrew kind of ups the ante). I remember somebody asked me, “What about your sweet 16?” I don’t know ANYONE who had a Sweet 16 party. As far as I can tell, it was always an east coast debutante, coming-out-to-society thing that has now been reconceptualized by MTV as an opportunity for noveeau riche über brats to organize obscene displays of wealth on their daddies’ credit cards.
In theory, the quinceañera marks a girl’s rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood. I believe that is something worth marking.
One of German’s photos: Presenting flowers to La Virgen
However, in the context of the United States, in which adolescence can now stretch into one’s twenties, the event sometimes seems less about taking on a mantle of adult responsibility and more about having a whopping huge party. After all, not many girls marry at 16 anymore.
I would say the age of 15 is unique in one respect- the spectrum of maturity is vast. Some of our clients did seem like they had just been playing with dolls last week as they did a dance, cradling their traditional “last doll.” Others seemed already hardened by life. I guess growing up is all relative.
Given that this tradition has persisted since Aztec times and across international borders, I’m guessing it’s not going anywhere soon.
Why my sudden fascination with the quinceanera? You have a lot of time to think about them when you attend 1-2 a month for a year. Since moving to LA, I have been assisting my boyfriend in his photo and video business. We primarily do XV años and weddings so I now have a privileged front row seat to this rite of passage, from the girl getting dressed in the morning up through the big dance.
There are many beautiful moments – as you can see showcased on our website.
One of German’s photos
However, today, I’m going to compile the hall of fame of some of our funniest experiences:
The worst toast of all time
For the sake of all involved, I am not going to post video of this one. Key detail: the bride and her husband had already been together for well over 20 years before tying the knot, so everyone at the party knew each other pretty well. When we got to the toast part of the evening, the sister of the groom apparently wanted to address some lingering animosities between the family members. She grabbed the microphone and called out to the bride:
“I want to tell you something. Let it go already! I don’t know what’s wrong with you because my brother has never cheated on you – never! So stop giving him a hard time! He never cheated on you!”
At that point, a couple of guys wrestled the microphone away. Needless to say, that toast DID NOT make the video.
Second runner up: This wasn’t a bad toast, just one that caught us by surprise. A relative of the bride said: “And congratulations because this baby is such a blessing.” That’s when we realized we were at a shotgun wedding. Unclear whether this was news to anyone else at the party.
Party and they will come. The light lady in the photo below has an uncanny ability to find any party we’ve ever gone to, get herself in and start selling glowing necklaces to everyone there who is under four feet tall.
Puzzling familial relationships
Our policy regarding identifying family members is that we simply don’t ask. Sometimes the father is MIA, sometimes there are estranged siblings…we simply say, “Let’s a get a photo of the whole family!” and photograph whoever is standing there. At one party, a sibling showed up at the mass who we hadn’t met over at the house – the girl’s older “brother” who was six feet tall, wore a tight black skirt and a leather corset with 4-inch bondage-style heels and was accompanied by her boyfriend.
Best Photoshop request
One of our young ladies asked if we could do some work in Photoshop. She wasn’t looking for a little airbrushing. Rather, she handed German her brother’s booking shot, explained that he was incarcerated and would therefore not be able to attend the quinceañera and asked if we could Photoshop him in.
Most unusual location
The facility requirements for a rocking Mexican fiesta are not high. All you need is space for tables, an outlet for the DJ to plug in and neighbors who aren’t going to call the cops. We’ve been to a lot of backyard house parties, a couple of “salons” in converted warehouses, including the most elegant one we’ve seen which was in the swap meet building by the dumpsters. For this particular gig, we followed directions to a building in a decidedly industrial part of town and followed people disappearing into a gray building. We walked down a long hallway, past some classrooms and popped out into the party – in an enormous auto training shop. There were literally cars on lifts all across the side of the room, not to mention a stunning wall of tires.
Best kid dancer: El Monte’s got talent!
The video speaks for itself.
Best Baile Sorpresa
This is a hard one to pick– we’ve seen some pretty good dances. I’m a bit partial to the western ones myself, but we had to give these girls a hand. They even did an impromptu encore.
Strangest Catholic wedding of all time
It is a common practice here for several girls to have their quinceañera mass at the same time as a money-saver. However, we have only attended one mass wedding. There were SEVEN couples, all of whom were clearly on the older side and several of whom already had children running around during the ceremony. The priest emphasized the timing was not as important as “eventually doing the right thing.”
Most absurd display of machismo
For one wedding, all of the payments were handled through the bride. She gave us the down payment for half and when we delivered the album and video, she spoke to German outside, slipped him the money, then told him to take the payment from her husband so he wouldn’t know how much the photo and video cost. He proceeded to slip German $20 dollars.
Worst Father of All Time
One time, I wasn’t able to assist German so his sister pitched in. When they went to the park, the father rolled up in a van with all the kids, who poured out and headed over to start taking photos. In the meanwhile, he pulled out a 40 of beer to entertain himself for the next hour. It is worth mentioning that German’s sister is a social worker whose professional assessment of the situation was, “Oh, hellll no!”
Best party music
This is my personal fave – a song guaranteed drive all Anglo neighbors up the wall. Good thing it’s LA and you don’t have any! The music video is also pretty awesome. “¿Esto ya se acabó? NOOOOOOOOO!!!”
For your listening pleasure, here my Mexican party mix to date – I’m still adding to it. It enlivens my Friday afternoons at work quite a bit.
A Memorable Visit from the Fire Marshall
This quinceañera took place in a converted warehouse in south LA where there were two other parties taking place simultaneously so there were a grip of people…and a dearth of exits. This fact was apparently not lost on the LA County Fire Marshall who paid us a little visit as chronicled by German:
Quinceañera Vocabulary 101
La Misa (mass): The most solemn part of the day is usually only attended by a handful of people with most of the crowd only coming for the party. Everyone dresses to the nines, which can range from elegant floor-length gowns to extremely short leopard print hootchie mama dresses.
Las damas (the maids) and los chambelanes: Just as a bride has bridesmaids, most girls have a full court of honor for the event – usually about five girls and five guys, including the chambelan de honor, who will be the quinceañera’s escort for the day. The commitment goes a bit beyond buying dresses and renting tuxes, however, because the court is responsible for putting on an elaborate dance later in the evening called the vals (waltz).
El vals: This is a multipart dance with quite a bit of shuffling around and elaborate walking patterns. The court often continues to dance into the brindis (the toast).
El baile sorpresa: I don’t know the background of this tradition. To me, it seems like an American add-on where the quinceañera gets to show off her style and put her imprint on the event. After the formal waltz, the court disappears for a quick costume change into more casual outfits, then returns for a more contemporary dance. I’ve seen some cute western-themed and hip hop dances and a couple so risqué that I did indeed feel that I was watching a girl grow into a woman…a skanky one.
Baile de Muñeca – They don’t always do a dance, but a traditional gift is the “last doll” and sometimes this is integrated into a dance.
Music – The party music varies, usually based on where the parents or padrino is from. Some popular choices: tamborazo (the loudest brass + drum emsemble you’ve ever heard), mariachi, banda, a DJ, cumbia…plus drunken relatives will often elect to sing a number (which might make the audience “llorar, llorar, llooooorrarrrrr…”
Padrinos: Literally, Godparents. In the case of the quinceraera, there will be MANY Godparents. This mega-event is NOT paid for entirely by the father of the young lady. Some quinceañera’s have a padrino for almost every single element of the event, from the guestbook to the dress to the limo to the DJ. There is usually a point in the evening when they call out the padrinos and they can step up for a turn around the floor with the quinceañera.
This is the song – “Time for a Waltz” – a classic:
Birria – Goat stew…mmmm! It isn’t necessarily easy or cheap to feed 300 people. You can hire a taquero to serve tacos or a few of our moms actually cooked the whole thing themselves, not in multiple pots but in literally the biggest pot of all time. Tasty!
Limo – This is high priority for the girls who usually want a Hummer (we’ve yet to see a traditional limo). We had some people get a party bus – complete with stripper pole which was a hit with the 15-year-old set. Then again, don’t go behind your father’s back to hire the limo as one of our clients learned when her father hit the roof the night before the event.