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When Girls At A Texas High School Told Their Principal They Could Not Afford To Do Their Quinceañeras He Helped Host Them

In the small Mexican-American community of San Benito in Texas, most girls live for the day that donas, escorts, and lights will wait for them on the dance floors of their quinceañeras. But— at least up until four years ago— orders for cakes, gowns, crowns, food, decorations, and DJs ran up tabs that put such events well out of reach for the girls who lived there.

Now, thanks to a high school principal, not a single girl has to miss out on the opportunity to foster her Latino heritage and passage into womanhood.

Since 2015, the entire community of San Benito has hosted a quinceañera event for young girls and their families every year. 

Avenida Productions

Four years ago, Gilbert Galvan Sr., a principal at Veteran’s Memorial Academy, was asking students about their plans for the school year when answers from some of the young women at his school caught his attention. As a principal at the academy, Gilbert Galvan Sr. often walked the hallways and checked in on students and their well-being, asking them about their future plans and interests. If he heard a complaint or came across a student with a problem, he did what he could to help. This time though, after a few of his female students told him that they were not making plans for their quinceañeras because of financial reasons, Galvan Sr. was inspired to do the above and beyond.

Over the course of a few months, the educator sought out the help of his community and asked for donations to put on a quinceañera event for the girls. He received everything from cakes, dresses, crowns, volunteers to do makeup, even a mariachi performance. The first event was hosted for just a handful of girls and their families. Each girl received a donated dress to wear, a cake for her table, and a crown. In the years that have followed, Galvan Sr. has turned the event into a tradition, this time just a bit larger. Last year, 40 girls attended the event with their families, this year Galvan Sr. says that he will be hosting a party for eighty. Donations for the girls have come in from people across the country who have caught wind of Galvan Sr.’s event.

The community quinceañera has touched so many that it recently garnered the attention of a Hollywood production company.

Avenida Productions

Galvan’s son, Gilbert Galvan Jr. —who has worked in the entertainment industry for ten years— was inspired by his father’s efforts and pitched the event as a documentary concept to Fanny Véliz, the award-winning filmmaker and CEO behind Avenida Productions. Véliz will direct the documentary as well as co-produce it with Galvan Jr and Nelson Grande. In an interview with FIERCE the Venezuelan director explained that her hope is to highlight Galvan Sr.’s efforts in the community and explore the concept of how a girl can “be American and have a quinceanera.”

For Galvan Jr. the documentary will be key to showing audiences how Latinos connect to their culture. “I always felt completely connected to my culture because of where I grew up and because of my parents and my hometown.”

Together, both hope the documentary, called “Our Quinceañera” will showcase San Benito and Galvan Jr.’s community celebration. “My hope is that those who watch the film will be inspired to embrace their heritage and celebrate the power of community,” Galvin Jr. explained on the event’s campaign page. “We want to document this historic event while empowering and inspiring Latina girls across the country to pursue and achieve their dreams.”

Read: Meet Jorlaney Oquendo, The 7-Year-Old Puerto Rican Who Started A Lemonade Business To Help Her Community

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Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture


Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture

For many who regularly take part in the holiday season, Christmas traditions are strongly tied to religious beliefs and practices. The ways in which the customs around the holiday season are carried out often deeply rooted in cultural rituals and they often vary from family to family. For my Puerto Rican family, the holiday season is drawn out well past the first of January when radio stations reel back on the jingles and Mariah Carey classics. For us, the Twelve Days Of Christmas sales or songs we know of don’t relate to the days leading up to December 25, but rather the twelve days in between Christmas Day and January 6 The Epiphany, a biblical day that marks the final leg of the  Three Wise Men’s journey to deliver gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus Christ.

Día De Los Reyes has always been an especially important day for my family. The fact that “reyes” is my mother’s maiden name has only made the day a little sweeter.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

A more popular holiday back on the island, my abuela and abuelo Reyes brought their traditions to the mainland with them in the 1950s.

On the evening of January 5, each member of my family from grandfather to my youngest sobrino pull out cardboard shoe and clothing boxes (all marked with our names, drawn on and decorated over the years with crayons, markers, and glitter pens) to take part in a tradition that we hold dear in our hearts. After we’ve filled the boxes with snacks like carrots, lettuce, and sometimes grass for the Three Kings’ camels to munch on as they pass through our town we stick the boxes under our beds. Finally, just as we would with Santa Claus, we write the Three Kings–Los Reyes–a handwritten note wishing them safe travels as the journey to see the baby Jesus hoping that as they did with him on that first Epiphany, they’ll leave a small gift or token of some sort under our boxes.

Dia De Los Reyes functions similarly to Christmas Eve in my family. We all wake up and check under our boxes to see if we were good enough this year to receive any gifts. We’d go to mass together, where as kids we’d hope that maybe Los Reyes stayed in town with their camels long enough that day to be at the church community center to pose for photos. We would visit family and eat pernil and arroz con gandules, dishes reserved for celebrations and holidays.

As I got older I went to mass only sometimes and stopped looking to get my photos with Los Reyes.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

I never stopped checking my box for gifts though, or remembering each rey by the names older relatives taught me to write in my letters: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. As an adult I focused on new ways to celebrate “being a king,” as my family would say, and took on the role of expert coquito maker.

When I started dating and began wanting to bring boyfriends home for the holidays, part of my new role during the holiday season also unintentionally became one of both gatekeeper and teacher of my Puerto Rican culture. As a sophomore in college, I brought my then boyfriend home for December for the first time. In my household, Noche Buena, Christmas Day, New Years Day, New Year’s Eve, and Dia De Los Reyes were all days set aside for family, exclusively. I knew not to ask for exceptions, and in the past had willfully or grudgingly passed up holiday and New Years parties to honor the expectation of being en familia.

But in my twenties I badly started to yearn for my first New Years kiss and wanted, even more, to share part of my twelve days of Christmas with somebody who mattered to me.

My parents, on the other hand, were hesitant. Dia De Los Reyes was about Los Reyes, as in my family.

My boyfriend was someone they saw a few times a year and knew of only from phone calls, letters, texts, and video chats. Someone so unfamiliar certainly wasn’t considered family, and moreover someone who wasn’t Latino couldn’t possibly understand the sanctity of the day we’d honored so lovingly all our lives.

Most concerning of all, Dia De Los Reyes is also known among some circles as “the poor man’s Christmas,” my grandparents’ explanation being that back in the days of Jesus, being a king didn’t mean wealth like it means today. It meant that the giftschildren and observers receive in their boxes today are small, like a $10 gift card, socks, some mittens, or maybe candy. The last thing my family needed was for some guy they didn’t know to reach into an old shoebox of all things, pull out socks, and think we were cheap. With some convincing and a little grumbling, my family allowed me to write my boyfriend’s name on a box, fill it with lettuce and put it under my bed on January 5.

That night as I lay in bed, I did feel nervous knowing that I was bringing somebody into such a special part of my life that no one had ever seen before outside of my parents. Earlier in the day, I made sure to explain to him how seriously my family took our family only traditions, and how it wasn’t just about the religious holiday but the namesake that ties us to one another. I felt silly as I highlighted decorating beat-up boxes as one of my favorite traditions, something I hadn’t ever admitted out loud. Quiet and reserved, he listened to my stories but didn’t ask any questions.

In the morning, I still had my family only morning mass and our opening of gifts, but later that day my boyfriend was invited over for pasteles, coquito, and the checking of his first and only Three Kings Day box.

My parents observed with critical eyes as he went through the motions of our traditions, seeming charmed by the gifts of a hat and gloves left resting on top of torn up shreds of lettuce, proof that Los Reyes had come through our house. As he followed our lead I sat hoping that by participating in the events himself, he might better understand where my love for my culture comes from, or maybe even briefly feel the same sense of childhood joy I do on that day each year. Admittedly, it was an awkward day for everyone involved and not filled with all the magic I had hoped for. Nonetheless, I still felt proud of myself for being able to break down a barrier that had long existed between myself and not only romantic connections but a friend, too.

I wanted the opportunity to show those outside of my family the part of my identity that I hadn’t always made transparent in my daily life, even if that meant that they didn’t understand or wouldn’t “get it” at first.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

Even though the person who got to take the test run of my family only traditions and I aren’t together anymore, a few years ago he broke the mold for being able to bring others into a part of my life I was using to shutting so many close to me out of.n Maybe he did think that of us, our gifts, or the day we celebrate as cheap, but after the fact I, didn’t care. In the years that have followed, what has mattered most to me has been that I could start sharing Reyes, this name that laid down the foundation to who I am before I was ever born, and all the nuances that come with it with those I want to know me better.

This Dia De Los Reyes will be one of a few Reyes family festivities that my current boyfriend will be participating in, and another year where my family pulls out his box and welcomes his extra cheer into our holidays. While he’s still learning about my roots, I’m still learning that I can take these moments and use them to bring myself closer to my culture and my loved ones.

Read: Twitter’s Latest Hashtag Fights Back Against The Normalization Of Death And Violence Against Migrant Youth

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20 Ways to Celebrate Your Double Quince

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20 Ways to Celebrate Your Double Quince

Maybe you had a classic quince complete with chambelanes and a vals. Maybe yours was more like a big party that just so happened to come with a photoshoot and a tiara. Maybe you didn’t have a quince at all. Whatever your story, turning 30 offers the chance to do it all your way. The doble quince has become a popular way for Latinas to celebrate their heritage and their 30s in style. Here are 20 ideas to get you excited for a doble quince of your own.

1. Throw it back now

Credit: @lavega27 / Instagram

For a truly great double quince, it only makes sense to give your past a nod. This chica rocked her aunt’s prom dress from 1988 to celebrate her sister’s birth year at a doble quince celebration.

2. Embrace your teenage self

Credit: @nvasco / Instagram

You know your original quince photos are gold now. You looked so little! Your hair was so different! And OMG, that dress! Everyone loves a good #Throwback.

3. Make it a family affair

Credit: @bombazinedoll / Instagram

Quinces have always been a family event, just like any other, so do it up big and invite everyone to celebrate again. This treintañera celebrated her own birthday along with a family member’s 96th!

4. Your friends totally count as family, of course

Credit: @guacatelasas / Instagram

If you’re far away from home for your doble quince, never fear. Fill the room with your adopted familia and celebrate with the same loud, music-filled party you might have had back in the day. Plus, you can recreate the awkward family photos of your youth!

5. Buy the cupcake dress of your dreams

Credit: @cocojenkinsbass / Instagram

My quince dress was a knee-length number from Nordstrom, but part of me has always loved the over-the-top puffs of dresses that are so popular with quinceañeras. If you want to be a poofy princess, guess what — si se puede! You earned it.

6. Or re-purpose a prom dress

Credit: @ashlyyyanna / Instagram

There’s something undeniably practical about digging up an old prom dress and turning it into your doble quince outfit. It’s the perfect tribute to your teenage self. Plus, you can spend what you saved on even more glitz…

7. Buy that tiara, too.

Credit: @drunk_austen / Instagram

When I went shopping for my quince tiara, I wanted the biggest, sparkliest one I could find. I wanted to look like Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries, or Princess Diana. My mom convinced me to get a much more low-key version that suited me better, but if I have a doble quince, you’d better believe I’m going big!

8. Or swap it for a crown

Credit: @candi_bunny / Instagram

This Frida-inspired crown is also a totally modern take on the quince tiara. It’s perfect for a more casual celebration and lets you show off your breezy personality!

9. Don’t forget the party favors

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How cute are these homemade velitas? Say gracias to all of your guests with some personalized swag telling them how much they mean to you.

10. Or the cake!

Credit: @natalie_la / Instagram

This Barbie quince cake is the sweetest thing. It’s a little bit vintage and a whole lot of adorable, perfect for a small get together that has plenty of style.

11. You know you need a doble quince photoshoot

Credit: @shaunajnielsen_photography / Instagram

If you had an old-fashioned quince, you definitely had an entire afternoon dedicated to taking dramatic photos of you looking like a true mujer…or at least, you and your mami’s idea of one. Bring back the tradition with some fun updates to mark your new decade!

12. Especially now that you can finally show off the attitude you’ve had since you were 15

Credit: @amandalagringa / Instagram

Your day, your rules! You may have had to pose like a nice, proper woman for your quince photos in the past, but now, you can show off your personality — and your attitude.

13. A photo booth is totally acceptable, too

Credit: @vanessacolosiodiaz / Instagram

Celebrate yourself and your cultura with a photo booth backdrop that’s as colorful as both. Your party people will love getting in on the photo shoot action. Consider setting up a Polaroid camera for instant snaps.

14. Especially if you can make your own weird and wonderful backdrop!

Credit: @feiteiraflame / Instagram

Can we talk about this fluffy royal penguin for a sec? This backdrop is customized, creative, and sure to instantly generate smiles. You don’t even have to say “quinceee!” to get the perfect grin here.

15. Let’s talk chambelanes, porfa.

Credit: / Instagram

This royal court seriously dedicated themselves to the theme. Look at that purple suit and the dama’s purple hair! Your friends are far more likely to dress for the occasion now that they’re down for a good theme party.

16. Go wild!

Credit: @pabloshirley / Instagram

Who says sequins aren’t versatile? This doble quince queen had a chambelan de honor who totally dressed the part in a tux that matched her dress to the max!

17. Speaking of los chicos, quinces aren’t just for women anymore!

Credit: @the_only_juan17 / Instagram

Be real, some guys out there were jealous that you got to dress up and be royalty for the day. Now, it’s their turn! This necklace is the perfect bit of sparkle — more subtle than a tiara, but just as indicative of who’s the guest of honor.

18. Your doble quince can be casual

Credit: @stephaarellano / Instagram

If your first quince was over the top — or elaborate just isn’t your style — there’s nothing wrong with keep it casual. All you need are good friends and family, some festive decorations, and something sweet to cap it all off.

19. Any dress can be a quince dress

Credit: @jlamas2 / Instagram

Much as I love those swirls of chiffon and tulle, let’s be real: Any dress can be a quince dress. This reina wore a gold dress that can definitely be worn again while she celebrated her 30th in Las Vegas.

20. So whatever your doble quince dreams, do you.

Credit: @lachicadekaraoke / Instagram

Wear a tiara! Have a watermelon for cake! Blow out a giant candle! Bring the cat! You’re entering a new phase of your life, and you’ve grown and learned so much along the way. Celebrate in whatever style you want, because it’s all your own.

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