Bethany Luna, cover girl of Houston Quinceañera’s fall/winter 2014 issue.

Although I attended a couple of them in my youth, I never had a quinceañera, much to my regret. No event was ever held to mark my passage from girl to woman. More importantly, I never got to pose at the Mecom Fountain wearing turquoise organza. I have never once held…a scepter. 

And so, on February 15, surrounded by thousands of lucky young women, I will wander alone through the Houston Quinceañera Expo, an event that’s now so popular it’s held at the NRG Center. Even today, I’m fascinated by the girl in a rhinestone-encrusted peach gown and tiara on the cover of the fall/winter 2014 edition of Houston Quinceañera magazine, and so I decide to ask her all about her own party. 

Bethany Luna is her name, a young girl pretty enough to be in pageants and has been. How incredibly amazing was it, I wonder, to make an appearance at last year’s expo? To sit signing magazines for adoring fans? She looks at me. “It was fun,” the sweet North Shore freshman says with a shy smile.

I turn my attention to Luna’s mother, Erica Martinez. Her own quinceañera is now 18 years in the past. “Now they are more glamorous, bigger than back in the day,” says Martinez, the COO of Millennium Physicians, a local medical group. “When I had my quince it was $5,000.” These days it’s not unusual for parents to spend five times that much, she says. 

When Martinez tells me about the 300-person quinceañera for Bethany she spent a year and a half planning, I wish, not for the first time, that I’m Latina and it’s 20 years ago. And then it occurs to me: I can’t turn back the clock, but there’s still time to prevent other young girls from leading barren, quinceañera-less existences. I’ll broadcast Martinez’s tips and secrets for sweet 15 success. 

Make sure your daughter wants a quinceañera. I have a hard time imagining who wouldn’t. Still, “this event is equivalent to a wedding,” says Martinez, so your daughter needs to be all in. “She did have an option to either go on a cruise or have a quince, and she chose to have a quince.” 

Ignore the haters. That’s dumb, you’ll hear someone say. Why would you spend that money when it could go toward college or a car? Such people are cretins. Pay no attention to them. “We were able to capture a moment she’ll have for the rest of her life, and that’s something you can’t put a number on.”

Watch your expenses. “Just kind of price things and budget and shop around. It adds up really fast. There’s a lot of incidentals—hair and makeup, photos, nails, the invite, little gifts to give away, party favors, all those little things. Then there’s the venue, food, cake, DJ, and don’t forget the choreographer.”

Solicit padrinos—sponsors—to offset costs. Bethany’s grandmother bought her dress and shoes, a family friend the cake. Others donated money. They received bottles of wine or vodka as thanks. 

Book your venue as soon as possible. Knowing how quickly reception halls get snapped up, Martinez reserved Armentas in Channelview 18 months in advance.

Said venue should be near your daughter’s school. This will ensure a good turnout. “We wanted her friends to come,” says Martinez. “This was a party for her. We could have done it for less money across the city, but how would they get there?”

Court members: either commit yourself or get out. Tradition calls for the birthday girl to be escorted by seven boys and seven girls in matching dresses and tuxes, but that’s a lot of teenagers to wrangle. Martinez’s daughter did fine with just four pairs of escorts, and the mother spoke with all the parents beforehand to make sure they were on board. “It’s a time commitment and a financial commitment,” Martinez says. 

Send out two different invitations. One set invites close friends and family to dinner beforehand (and, in Bethany’s case, a ceremony with a blessing “to kind of reiterate values as a young woman—keeping yourself pure and waiting for marriage,” explains Martinez). The other set is for everyone else, and gives details on the rest of the festivities.

Get security. They’ll help make sure kids don’t leave until their parents pick them up, as well as keep out unwanted intruders, like, say, a certain young woman who not only showed up at Bethany’s quince uninvited, but did so wearing high-waisted shorts and a crop top. “She was very rude,” recalls Luna.

Put your daughter’s name in lights, let her wear three different dresses, cheer her on during the multiple dance routines. You get the idea. “I did feel like a princess,” Bethany recalls. “I loved it because all the attention was on me.”

Mix it up. “The DJ played a little bit of everything—country, hip-hop, salsa, merengue, traditional Mexican music, old-school music, I don’t even know,” remembers Martinez. “Everyone was dancing.”

Just before midnight, serve menudo. Obviously. 

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