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Sixteen Quinces

Ballet Folkórico adviser and dancers sponsor schoolwide quinceañera so everyone can celebrate turning 15

Kristen Tibbetts

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Photos by Cynthia Castro, Sarah Slaten and Steven Tibbetts and courtesy of the students who attended the event.

Have you ever have had your own quinceañera?

It was a simple question, directed at Spanish teacher and Ballet Folkórico sponsor Juana Gun.

Junior Cynthia Castro takes a pause during the quinceañera to take a picture with her family. Cynthia previvously wore her blue dress for her real quinceañera two years ago. “I decided to do the quinceañera because I had paid $400 dollars for this dress and it does not deserve getting dust on it,” Castro said. “It was nice seeing all the Quinceañeras and their dresses.” Photo courtesy of Cynthia Castro.

“One of my Ballet Folklórico girls [asked me],” Gun said, “ … and I said, ‘No, my family couldn’t afford it.'”

And with that sad memory, a McCallum tradition was born.

Gun decided at that moment that McCallum students should be able to have a quinceañera even if they couldn’t afford to pay for one and even if they weren’t Latina by birth. Her Ballet Folkórico troupe raise money to fund the event, and then Gun invites anybody who might enjoy it if they want to join in on the fun.

The third edition of the McCallum quinceañera took place this past Sunday at Faith Lutheran Church. Sixteen girls had the opportunity to celebrate their quinceañera (in some cases a year or two late). Of the girls who participated in the event, many had never had a quinceañera before; some celebrated for a second time, and four were celebrating their real quinceañeras.

Spanish teacher and Ballet Folklórico adviser Juana Gun introduces the 16 Qunceañeras and their 12 escorts to the stage for their dance routine. Gun organised the quinceañera for the third year in a row in order to help McCallum girls celebrate their real quinceañeras and to invite anybody that just wanted to have a fun time and wear a fluffy dress. “This started when one of my Ballet Folklorico girls said, ‘Mrs. Gun, did you have a quinceañera?’ and I said, ‘No, my family couldn’t afford it,'” Gun said. “So, we brainstormed how we could have a McCallum High School quinceañera for people that wanted to be in it.”
Photo by Sarah Slaten.

“I thought it would be fun since I didn’t have my own quinceañera since it takes lots of work and money,” junior Xochitl Montoya said, “so I took advantage of this opportunity to be part of one.”

Traditionally, friends and family sponsor a quinceañera’s dress, shoes or donate money to help pay for the party. Modern quinceañeras have, however, become incredibly expensive because families are hesitant to ask for financial support to throw one. Believing that everyone should have the opportunity to participate in the Hispanic cultural event, Juana Gun decided to create the tradition at McCallum where any girl who wished could be a part of a joint quinceañera.

The celebration started off with a choreographed waltz routine that the quinceañeras and their chambelanes (escorts) practiced every day at lunch for two weeks. In order for there to be an almost equal number of quinceañeras and chambelanes, Gun and other McCallum Spanish teachers offered extra credit to people who participated in the celebration.

“Of course, I offer extra credit, which motivates some,” Gun said, “but by the end of the whole thing they’re like ‘that was a lot of fun’ and so I think everybody learns something.”

Following the choreographed waltz, Juan Diaz, a former McCallum Knight, played with his fellow mariachi band members in their group called “Trio Juan Diaz.” Afterwards, senior Cristian Miranda deejayed the rest of the party. Later on in the afternoon limo rides were given to party guests, and a piñata was brought out for the young children.

Video by Cynthia Castro.

Finding a way to pay for the expenses of a party of this size was not easy. The Ballet Folklórico club had reserved funds to cover some of the costs and a group of quinceañeras and chambelanes volunteered to work a shift at the Erwin Center to raise money for the rest. On top of that, local businesses offered discounts and donations.

“Luckily, here in the community around McCallum, all those businesses love the kids as much as we do here at school, and they help us,” Gun said.

Sophomores Lucy Smith and Richard Hernandez dance at the McCallum High School Ballet Folklórico Quinceañera tonight. Of the 16 McCallum girls who participated in the event, some had never had a quinceañera, some were celebrating their quinceañera for a second time, and four were celebrating their real quinceañeras. The quinceañera started with a dance routine that the 16 girls and their partners practiced everyday at lunch for two weeks and was followed by lots of food, music and more dancing. McCallum Spanish teacher, Juana Gun, coordinated the event for the third straight year in order to give McCallum girls a chance to participate in the Latino cultural celebration. “This started when one of my Ballet Folklorico girls said, ‘Mrs. Gun, did you have a quinceañera?’ and I said, ‘No, my family couldn’t afford it,'” Gun said. “So, we brainstormed how we could have a McCallum High School quinceañera for people that wanted to be in it.” Photo and reporting by Steven Tibbetts.

It was not only businesses that lent their support to put on the quinceañera. Gun received help from parents, who were in charge of making a pot-luck dinner, and from other McCallum teachers.

“Every single teacher in [the Spanish] hallway helped me,” Gun said. “I can’t do it by myself, I have to have help. I love this school because all I have to say is, ‘Hey guys, I need help,’ and someone will come help me.”

The hard work paid off. Even though there were concerns that having 16 quinceañeras would be overwhelming, everything ran smoothly.

“I got to talk to a lot of people and make friends. Also, just wearing a big dress was fun,” said freshman Atziry Veliz, one of the four girls celebrating their real quinceañeras. “My family was really excited about it because they’ve been waiting for my quinceañera since I was basically 10.”

Gun plans on keeping the tradition going by coordinating another quinceañera next year, and she hopes that even more people will choose to participate.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” Gun said. “And for some [families] that can’t afford to give their daughters a quinceañera, [I love] being able to help.”

 Infographic by Sophie Ryland.

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