Ivan Garcia, 13 November 2017 — In the studio there are three light reflectors that give off an unbearable heat. In the background there is a wall of mirrors and two white umbrellas hanging from the ceiling.
Joan, a professional photographer, considers himself a freelancer. He also sells audiovisual packages to foreign press agencies based in Havana, planning a photographic exhibition with artistic nudes.
“But what earns the most money are the photo sessions for fifteenth birthday parties, both for females and males. Packages of photos, montages and videos range between 120 and 850 convertible pesos (CUC), and some are even more expensive. From the professional point of view it’s a cash cow, as long as you are up to date with the latest youth trends in Cuba and have a stock of sophisticated tools and applications. It’s true that art is scarce and kitsch is abundant, but you earn more money than with graphic journalism or artistic photography,” says Joan.
The fifteenth birthday parties on the island support a fat and efficient chain of businesses that enjoy generous profits. Hairdressers, barbershops, photographers, audiovisuals, cakes, buffet tables, sale or rental of costumes, choreographers, DJs, comedians and well-known television presenters usually participate in the celebrations for turning 15.
Moraima says that “on my daughter’s fifteenth I spent about 6 thousand chavitos (CUCs). A week in a hotel in Varadero for five people cost 1,500 CUC. On clothes for the girl we spent 450 CUC, 750 CUC on photos and videos, 200 CUC on hairdressing and almost 3 thousand CUC on the birthday, between the cake, refreshments, drinks, rent of the room in a hotel, presenter for the party , choreographer, DJ and a comic. The next day I did not even have a peso for a cup of coffee.”
But now Moraima’s son has gottenit into his head to also celebrate his 15th birthday.” He says that’s fashionable. His father and I put our hands on our heads, but the truth is that the boy gets good grades at school and deserves it,” the mother confesses.
José Manuel, father of two children who, in 2017, arrived at the ages of 15 (the boy) and 16 (the girl), found a solution that allowed him to lower costs. “We had a single celebration, like greased lightening. We rented two rooms in a four-star hotel in Cancun for eight nights for four people. Expenses were exceeded more than planned, around 10 thousand chavitos, but it was worth it. ”
The fifteenth birthday parties are a long-standing tradition in Cuba and other countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. The custom does not distinguish among races or social status. All Cuban families yearn to celebrate it in the best way possible; possible according to their economic possibilities. During Soviet Cuba, when one’s salary had a real purchasing power, it was less complicated to organize them, although the wealthiest could always go overboard and break the bank.
Zoila, 50, remembers: “My parents were workers in a textile factory. In 1982, when I turned 15, each one earned a salary of 200 pesos. However, with the five boxes of beer available on the ration book for fifteenth birthday parties and weddings, plus a little money saved, four cakes were bought, abundant food and drink was served, and several couples danced a rueda de casino. All that partying did not exceed a thousand pesos. Now, with the custom designed cake and the paraphernalia that usually accompanies a quinceañera, you’re out a thousand or two thousand chavitos. On my two daughters’ fifteenths, without great luxuries, I spent 4 thousand CUC.”
In Cuba, parties were never organized for boys when they turned 15 years old. But for four or five years it has become common. Although many fathers and mothers do not look on it kindly.
“The quinceañeras are a feminine tradition. My sons say that I am a Cro-Magnon, an antiquated one. But I’m against that ‘metrosexual’ fashion, men who shave their legs, chest and eyebrows, fix their nails and wear pink clothes. With this discourse that we all have the same rights, a part of the men have gone the gay route,” says Sergio, father of five children.
In a survey of 18 adolescents, females and males between 12 and 14 years old and from different social strata, 16 of them said that if their parents could afford it, they would celebrate their 15th birthday in some way, regardless of sex.
“It’s a cool thing and it’s fashionable. In 2018 I am going to be 15 and my parents are going to celebrate. I intend to make a digital magazine dressed in football outfits and audiovisual montages as if I were playing football with Messi and Neymar,” says Reinier, a ninth-grade student who is now 14.
Quite a few of the fifteenth birthday celebrations Cuba can be financed thanks to Cubans residing in the United States. “My uncle plans to come. He sent me name brand clothes and shoes, a phone and money. He told me by text that he is going to rent a week in an all-inclusive hotel in Cayo Santamaría,” says Lisván, a highschool freshman who will turn 15 in November.
So it is that many of the traditional holidays, now for the two sexes, in many cases are planned between relatives on the Island and in Florida. And the expenses are shared on both shores. Or they are paid in full by a magnanimous relative from Miami.