In 8th grade, I was instantly fascinated when I first learned about Quinceañeras in a short essay in my Spanish textbook. As described by the book, a Quinceañera is a lavish party of wedding-proportions to celebrate Latina girls' fifteenth birthday. Families save money for years to pay for an elegant dress, limousine, and reception of epic proportions. Because it seemed so absurd, I wanted desperately to attend. Of course, growing up, I did not know a single person of Mexican heritage, so I never had a chance to be invited to such an affair, though I was able to attend the affluent white alternative in the form of my Jewish friends' Bat Mitzvahs. They're both cultural events tied to a religious ceremony with a large price tag attached, except that at Quinceañeras there are more tiaras and fewer yarmulkes.
Once I moved to California, I met people who had actually attended Quinceañeras, and I lived vicariously through their tales. I made it my goal to eventually be invited to a Quinceañera so I could experience one firsthand. On one occasion, a friend and I heard of a Quinceañera occurring nearby and considered crashing the reception. Instead, we developed a working title for a screenplay: Mom, I'm Pregnant and It's My Quinceañera. In combining a cultural rite of passage with an unexpected biological one, it had all the workings of a dramatic, captivating film. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, someone else seemed to think so, too. Quinceañera is a film with that precise story line, but with a less catchy title if I do say so myself.
While I still haven't been to a Quinceañera, I came as close as I ever have this past weekend. As a teacher to a predominately Mexican-American student body, Jessica has attended several Quinceañeras, not that I'm totally jealous or anything. One of Jessica's students lent Jessica the "official" video of her Quinceañera, and of course I didn't turn down the offer to view it. When Daniel saw the DVD's cover, he asked if it was a porn. I can't fault his misperception because the grainy, low-quality photograph of a young woman making a sultry pose with a showy cursive pink title could easily be slipped into an adult film store without notice.
The video was nothing short of ridiculous. It starts with our almost-fifteen-year-old in what looks like a slip while frolicking on the beach and splashing in the water. Later at home, she pretends to fall asleep and with the magic of some special effects, she wakes up wearing her dress. Then she poses with it on a bridge, in a meadow, etc. According to Jessica, this girl is a rebellious anarchist type who didn't even want to have a Quinceañera, but here she was primping and posing, playing the part of debutante. It made me feel a little sad.
Skipping ahead (we fast-forwarded, too), the reception was the best part. Here, our birthday girl and her escort (her much older cousin! Jessica claims that that's customary) dance, as do about twenty of her friends. For weeks, these kids rehearse choreographed dances to perform for the girl's family. Alas, these kids aren't on So You Think You Can Dance, they're more like a couple dozen Cloris Leachmans, minus the bravado. They all act a little too-cool-for-school, not wanting to seem as if they're enjoying themselves or the odd dance moves that they're doing to differing beats.
As I stared with wonderment at the lack of synchronization, I noticed that kids are also outfitted nicely, with the boys in tuxedoes and the girls in matching "bridesmaid" dresses. It occurred me that since friends tend to be of the same age, a lot of these poor kids must have to go through this ritual and literal song-and-dance several times in the span of a year. Jessica acknowledged that my theory is true, and that those girls have to buy those dresses each time, an expensive undertaking for the girls who are asked to be in several Quinceañeras. If they can't afford the dress, they have to turn down the offer to be in the reception.
This conversation inspired a new screenplay idea:
Miley Cyrus stars in:
Premise: When Miley's father gets a job promotion, Miley's whole family must move from their entirely Caucasian small town in the Mid-West to an exclusively Mexican-American community in southern California. After some initial trouble adjusting, Miley's quest to make friends works a little too well, as she finds herself being asked to participate in numerous Quinceañera celebrations: fifteen to be exact. Amassing a collection of frilly, unattractive dresses, Miley must deal with her jealousy of always being the bridesmaid, yet never being Latina enough to have a Quinceañera of her own.
Conclusion **WARNING -- SPOILER**: As Miley begins to throw a temper tantrum, her father throws a surprise Sweet Sixteen birthday party where Miley is permitted to wear a slutty outfit rather than an unflattering dress, shares a keg with her friends, and is gifted an expensive new car. In the absence of choreographed dances, religious ceremonies, and cousin-dating, Miley's party is a raving success, elevating her to the status of the most popular girl in school.
Let me caution any would-be idea poachers that while I was willing to let my Mom, I'm Pregnant and It's My Quinceañera concept get away without a fight, I will sue you aggressively if you try to make Quince Dresses. This'll be my million dollar idea, and it'll be the only way I can afford to pay for my own child's Quinceañera one day. That's right, you can bet that regardless of my kid's gender or ethnicity, my kid will have a Quinceañera; after all, you only turn quince años once! Plus, it might be the only way I ever get invited to one.