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.
CREDIT: 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.
CREDIT: 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.”