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SPECIAL REPORT: A COVID Quinceañera

13 On Your Side's Christian Galeno investigates how businesses depending on families planning traditional celebrations were was affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the struggles of planning one

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA/KECY) - A Latin American rite of passage, the Quinceañera marks when a young girl turns 15 years-old and steps into womanhood.  In 2020, the pandemic raged on from North America to South America  forcing these celebrations to come to a halt.  

“I always wanted a Quinceanera since I was in elementary,” said Anais Oregon who is now celebrating her Quinceañera almost a year after turning 15. “Seeing all of my cousins having one and growing up and being a part of theirs made me want to have one.” 

The centuries-long tradition couldn’t stand a chance, mass-gatherings were not allowed therefore forcing any events and celebrations scheduled for 2020 to be postponed until further notice, something that caused a lot of stress for Margarita Pescina, Anais’ mother who was the one planning the celebration. 

“We had to change a lot, we’ve had to postpone a third time,” said Margarita Pescina.  “Right now I’m going to be honest, I’m hoping and praying that it’s going to work out.”

CAKE GALORE - Anais Oregon samples a variety of cake flavors ahead of her birthday celebration at a bakery in Somerton, Arizona.
(Photo Credit: Christian Galeno)

Rescheduling, opting for less guests, ban on mass gatherings, mask-wearing, all factors that slowly faded any reality of celebrating turning 15.   

For Quinceañeras--the constant re-scheduling eventually outgrows their desire to celebrate the milestone. 

“To me the Sweet 16 and a Quinceañera, I know they are not the same,” said Oregon.  “I wanted more like the Quinceñera because it felt close to home.” 

For moms--heartbreak and deception. 

“It did break my heart a bit because when I was little that’s all I wanted,” said Pescina.  “I made my own ‘recuerdos’ (party favors) and  when I was able to plan my daughters and she was like  ‘I don’t want it anymore’... well you know.” 

HANGIN' FROM HOPE - Rene Lopez, owner of Flowers & Co. demonstrates his speed at designing a floral arrangement.
(Photo Credit: Christian Galeno)

Cake shops, dress shops, florists, event halls all prayed the pandemic would phase out by the Summer and business would once again flourish as bills continued to pile on. 

Meanwhile, Pescina’s family went from planning a date-less Quinceañera to a funeral for a family. 

“We did lose my brother in law to this,” said Pescina.  “My grandmother has her shots but for her safety we are trying to keep our distance so even though we are having this we are still going to take precaution.”

Over at Flower & Co., arrangements began to fly out of the tiny shop on 8th Avenue. 

“I had several [Quinceañeras] that were completely cancelled, I had others that moved everything to this year,” said Rene Lopez, owner of Flowers & Co. in Yuma.  “ “I had another one that was a birthday party and it ended up being flowers for a funeral for their mom.” 

A teary-eyed Lopez recalls how he made it through the year, out-of-town orders placed by family members unable to attend funerals for loved ones claimed by COVID-19.  Astonished, Lopez mentions weddings also helped. 

“September, October I started getting phone calls,” said Lopez.  “Last minute, 30-day weddings, October was quite busy as far as weddings we did one for 400 guests.” 

OUT OF FLOWERS & OUT OF RIBBON - Rene Lopez, owner of Flower & Co., shows a style of flower that was difficult to obtain during shortages faced by businesses. (Photo Credit: Christian Galeno)

2021 started with a spike in cases, a ray of hope from vaccine developments, and new challenges for those targeting a celebration in the Fall. For Pescina and Oregon, their guest list went from 300 to 100.  This brings the task of having to choose who gets an invitation across Arizona, Texas, California, Nevada and New Mexico.

“For our culture we have big families,” said Pescina.  “So for us to say, ‘sorry you can’t come’ it’s heartbreaking for us to be honest, I know we are celebrating my daughter’ big milestone” 

'CLOSED' - Shoppers walk by a closed bridal shop along Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park, California. (Photo Credit: Christian Galeno)

No Quinceañera is complete without a dress only found in dreams, literally. 

“The dress is also a big thing, we can’t really find the type of style that I’m going for,” said Oregon.  “It’s not too hard to find but I am really picky and if something is missing then I’m all like ‘ehh’ I don’t think I really want that.” 

Local bridal shops often don’t carry the desired styles and a race against the clock might not permit for a custom dress. Eventually, the fairytale dress has to be found far, far, away in a town called Huntington Park--where another storm is brewing. 

WEAR YOUR CULTURE - Wearing your culture is amongst the style of dresses sought by angsty teens eager to celebrate their 15th birthday.
(Photo Credit: Christian Galeno)

About 12 miles southeast of Los Angeles, Claudia’s Bridal Shop sits in between a closed Bridal Shop and a Beauty Salon along Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park, California.  A sign at front reads: ‘Hello...We need staff to work,’  the message then translated to Spanish is accompanied at the end by a phone number and a name: ‘Claudia’. 

“Right now there has  been a shortage of first communion dresses,” said Patricia Sanchez, the only employee manning Claudia’s Bridal Shop.  “Those are usually made in L.A where apparel factories have had to close because of many COVID cases within those factories.”

The lack of labor and supply is felt back in Yuma, Lopez confirms shortages in everything from pink carnations to white ribbon to hundreds of Hydrangeas getting cancelled weeks before they were to adorn tables at a wedding. 

'HELP WANTED' - Claudia's Bridal Shop is just one of the many shops on Pacific Boulevard that greet customers with 'Help Wanted' signs.
(Photo Credit: Christian Galeno)

For these shop owners and keepers with a will, there had to be a way. 

“It’s been difficult to keep the business going,” said Sanchez  “Many businesses here have had to close their doors, so right now we are renting Quincerana and Wedding dresses to help people that are struggling and suffering during the pandemic.” 

As of May, Fall and Winter dates indicate a full come-back, for Lopez it shows in the amount of orders he has now had to reject as celebrations once again begin to be planned. 

“I’m just hoping this is memorable as it is for me as it is for her,” said Pescina.   “She’ll have something cool to tell her grandkids, like ‘hey I had a party during COVID’ and let me tell you!”

As Seen on TV / Must See Video / News / Video / Yuma County
Author Profile Photo

Christian Galeno

Christian Galeno joined the News 11/CBS 13 team in July of 2019 as a Weekend Anchor and multimedia journalist. He now anchors 13 on Your Side at 6, and 10.

Reach to Christian at christian.galeno@kecytv.com.

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