FRESNO — Latino families in the valley say the recession isn't stopping them from holding quinceañeras. It just means they have to work harder to pay the bills.
A quinceañera is a coming-of-age ceremony common in Latin American cultures on a girl's 15th birthday. It usually involves a church service and a dinner-dance reception. Both include rituals symbolizing the girl's commitment to her faith and family as she becomes a woman.
As elaborate and expensive as a wedding, the typical valley quinceañera costs $5,000 to $15,000, say store owners who specialize in the business — modest compared with some parts of the country, but still a heavy expense in communities largely dependent on minimum-wage and agricultural jobs.
Latino parents in the Central Valley say they are finding creative ways to raise money or reduce costs and still make the ceremonies meaningful.
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Sponsors, also known as "padrinos," long have played important roles in helping families meet the costs by paying for parts of the ceremony. Parents say they are willing to seek more of them and to make sacrifices themselves.
Officials at Barr Bros. of California in Fresno, which specializes in quince- añeras, say business is steady this summer — the peak season — despite the tough economic times. They said families are finding that every little bit counts.
"You can see the financial situation that some families are in," said Carla Barraza, manager at Barr Bros. "They want to keep a tradition alive."
Karla Pallaya said she was determined to hold a quinceañera in July for daughter Jazmin.
Pallaya is a single mother who says her family lives paycheck to paycheck.
"I went to extremes to make it happen for her," Pallaya said.
In a flowing white gown, Jazmin vowed at a Mass at St. John's Cathedral to demonstrate her Catholic faith as she assumed adult responsibilities.
Afterward, she relaxed at a pool party at a family friend's three-acre ranch.
Quinceañera cost: about $5,000.
Helping Pallaya defray costs were seven sponsors, mainly family members, who paid for a Bible, rosary, ring and necklace for Jazmin and for flowers placed at the Virgin Mary statue.
A sponsor also picked up the biggest cost: the $550 fee to use St. John's Cathedral in Fresno. Pallaya paid for the second-highest item: Jazmin's $430 gown.
"My family was there to help," Pallaya said. "It all paid off to see her smile."
Martha and Junior De La Torre also were determined to hold a July quince- añera for their daughter, Jasmine.
Martha De La Torre works as a hairdresser. Junior De La Torre, a mason, is unemployed. "We knew we had a big expense with the quinceañera, so we started cutting back," Martha De La Torre said.
But it took a lot of help.
Two years ago, Jasmine began seeking sponsors. As the date drew closer, Martha De La Torre asked her daughter to check on the sponsors. All 27 came through.
Quinceañera cost: about $15,000.
The sponsors covered about $5,000 of those expenses, including $1,700 for the cake. The De La Torres paid the rest.
"It's not just a party; it's a responsibility thing. It's a passage from childhood to adult," Martha De La Torre said.