Ivan Garcia, 14 August 2017 — A week in Punta Cana, Cancun, or some paradisiacal beach in the Bahamas. And if the family is well heeled, two weeks on a luxury cruise.
The excursion to an all-inclusive hotel in the Caribbean, in addition to the quinceañeara and her parents, can include the girl’s best friend and boyfriend. Orestes, a corpulent mestizo who makes a living “under the table,” explains to the Hispano Post the latest trends in girls’ 15th birthday parties in Cuba.
At a private cafe in the Vedado neighborhood, Orestes details about the expenses. “A week in Punta Cana, at an all-inclusive four-star hotel, three people, can spend $1,400 on the room reservation and maybe 200 or 300 more fulas (bucks) on purchases and gifts. I advise you to bring more money, because both the stores in those resorts and the markets in Dominican Republic have quality packages at good prices and you can buy merchandise and then resell it in Cuba and cushion the expenses a little.”
Orestes goes on to give more details. “Before the trip 300 CUC (339 dollars) are spent to get three passports. Then the visa, whether the Dominican, Mexican or Bahamian, has to be paid for, in addition to fulfilling a lot of requirements, because although the United States has repealed the policy of wet foot/dry foot, the perception in Latin America and in the world is that Cubans are likely immigrants. People who have a multiple-entry visa for the United States do not have problems, because with it they can travel throughout the continent without any other visa. And if you’re lucky you can get a tourist visa for the daughter and pay for a stay in Miami Beach, which would be ideal, but the accommodation and expenses are higher.”
He pauses to drink a mamey milkshake and stare for a moment at the Confederations Cup soccer match between Portugal and New Zealand, from a flat screen at the coffee bar. Orestes goes on to explain:
“Already with the expenses of the hotel, air ticket and other preparations for three people, the sum fluctuates between 3 thousand and 4 thousand CUC. But the expenses of a quinceañeara party that pulls out all the stops do not end there. The package of photos, something usual among the quinceañeras, costs 120 CUC for the cheapest and 950 CUC for the most expensive. Add to that, from 400 to 500 CUC for the purchase of clothes, getting her hair done at a noted hairdresser and, to finish the job, about 2 thousand CUC for a not too flashy party, because a quality celebration is 5,000 CUC,” aays Orestes, who says that, on the party for his daughter, including the trip abroad, photos, clothes, hairdressing and party, he spent the equivalent of $10,000.
“Brother, and I have not finished yet, because I have two other daughters who will also have to celebrate their quinceañeras,” he concludes with a forced smile.
The quinceañera festival is a tradition that goes beyond Cuba: in several Latin America countries they are also celebrated. According to a historian consulted, “This custom dates back to the Middle Ages, when kings and princes, landowners and merchants awaited the time of puberty (coinciding with the onset of menstruation and, therefore, the reproductive age of fertility) to make the most of their daughters. It was time to expose them publicly before the greedy eyes of future husbands. And among these, select not the most handsome or someone of appropriate age for the young woman, but the one who could offer a higher dowry.”
At one time in Cuba, rich families broke the bank, the middle class saved and organized a more or less sumptuous party. The daughters of employees and workers were satisfied with modest celebrations. Other families could not even afford that. “I turned 15 on November 10, 1957 and my parents only gave me a sweater that cost ten pesos,” recalls the journalist Tania Quintero.
“In my fifteenth, in 1985, in parties, drinks and clothes bought in tourist shops, my parents spent about 800 pesos, which at that time amounted to 200 dollars, as the fula was exchanged on the black market at four pesos to one. My parents were professionals, they had good salaries and they started saving from the time I was four or five years old. At my daughter’s party, in 2012, we spent almost 4 thousand dollars,” says Betty, a language teacher.
And in five years, the expenses have multiplied by a factor of ten. As has the vanity, tackiness and frivolity. If at one time the savings of the parents were enough to organize the 15th birthday party, now the celebration involves the whole family and relatives living abroad.
“If you have relatives in the US they save you. They may not be able to send you a lot of money, but it’s a relief if they send you clothes, cosmetics and hair products,” says Luisa, a divorced mother who has spent a decade collecting money for her only daughter’s Quince.
A sociologist in Havana says that more than a tradition, “Quince parties have become a social event where many families want to show off their economic solvency. Show that they are different. There is a sort of rivalry. And those who can, they want to organize a party more lavish than those of their daughter’s friends at school. A total escalation to foolishness and waste. The worst thing is that many families who spend large amounts of money leave other priorities of everyday life unresolved, such as repairing their home.”
Mariana, the mother of 16-year-old twins, says that the day after their birthday she did not have the moneyf or a cup of coffee. “You are sending your daughters out into that world, where in the typical pack complex, every girl wants her party to be the same or better than her friend’s. It’s kind of like a drug. And parents and relatives begin to spend wildly. They want to rent the best costumes, the best photographer, the best hair stylist, a famous television presenter and the most recognized DJ. Absolute madness.”
Those who benefit most from this celebration fever is the private sector. Giuseppe, an Italian who landed in Cuba after his marriage, was dedicated to photographing seabeds.
“But that kind of photography does not earn cash in Cuba. Then I scrambled and with my savings I opened a business photographing weddings and quinceñearas. The main thing is to be creative and offer quality. The rest comes alone. I have cheaper packages, between 200 and 300 CUC. But people usually choose photo packages of 600 CUC or more. Each package includes transportation, rental of costumes and videos. The most sold packages are those where the girl, thanks to the techniques of photoshop, embraces her idols, and a magazine in made about her life or announcing famous brands. Yes, it’s pretty kitschy, like those parties, but they drop of nice wad of cash,” confesses Giuseppe.
Actors, musicians, comedians and TV presenters earn extra money as masters of ceremony. “Besides drinking and eating for free, the Quince parties allow me to support my family and buy quality food. For every presentation including a comic show for an hour and a half, I charge 150 CUC,” says a well-known comedian.
On a single party you can spend the salary of four years of a high level professional. And there is no class distinction. From the poor who count their centavos to those who have bank accounts, everyone in Cuba likes to celebrate their daughters’ fifteenth birthdays.
Now a novelty has been added. Young Cuban men are also celebrating their 15th birthdays. It does not matter that on the Island the average monthly salary is 25 dollars and many families only eat one meal a day. Ostentation can do more.
Translated by Sofia