Most people don't make history with their birthday parties.
But last weekend, Juan Trejo did. Turning 15, the New Hanover High School freshman decided he wanted a quinceanero – the male version of the wedding-like parties traditionally reserved for the coming-of-age celebration of a girl in Hispanic cultures. Quinceaneros are becoming more prevalent in Texas and California, but this was the first one in Wilmington.
“It's not the same thing as the quincenaera, and sometimes it's less people who come to the party, but still it's really good,” said Jose Medrano, publisher of the Texas franchise of Quinceanera Magazine. “It's nationwide, definitely. Twenty years ago, I had my quinceanero. My mom sent me to the church to say prayers to God and had a party for me and my brother and the quinceanero was like a house party. And you can still find a lot more stuff for the quinceaneras than for quinceaneros. But in the next five years, it's really going to be popular.”
Quinceaneras and quinceaneros typically include a Catholic Mass celebrating the girl or boy's life and then a special party complete with elaborate fashion, light shows and father-daughter or mother-son dances.
“He's a trailblazer,”said Father Bob Kus, priest at St. Mary Catholic Church, where Juan's birthday Mass was held. “But I don't know yet why he decided to do it.”
For Juan, the quinceanero was the ultimate party, though he was skeptical at first.
“At first, I just wanted a party, but my mom said it should be a quinceanero,” he said. “And at first I said no, because I thought it might be weird because that's for girls, you know.”
But the more he learned about the party, the more he liked the idea. And the family planned the whole affair – including learning some special dance steps – in one month.
Juan's reception featured a special godmother and mother dances, and one surprise dance he choreographed himself from salsa, merengue and reggae tone steps.
One tricky element of the party planning was choosing who would be his seven “damas” or female friends to escort him on his birthday night. (Girls choose male escorts called chambelanes for their quinceanera.)
“They were all friends and one cousin. I picked them because I know them better, and they're pretty, and they actually put their time into practice and learning the dances for the party,” Juan added.
His mother, Sonia Eslava, never had a quinceanera of her own. And now she has three boys – 15, 10 and 4 years old.
“Everybody say the quinceanera is just for girls,” she said, shaking her head a few days later. She was putting away groceries in their Sunset Park kitchen. “I didn't have a girl for quinceanera so I wanted Juan to have it.”
During the Mass at St. Mary, Kus said prayers in Spanish thanking God for Juan's first 15 years.
“I felt kind of blessed because God was there and for him giving me shelter, food and my parents, and keeping me healthy,” Juan added a few days later. “I think that was the most important part.”
To that phrase, his mother peeked her head up over the refrigerator door where she was stowing plastic-wrapped vegetables and smiled at him.
After the Mass, Juan posed for photos with his family and friends. Then he stepped inside a long white limo, which took them to his party with about 300 people at the Moose Lodge on Carolina Beach Road, dancing into the night.
“My friends were saying it was the best party, better than some of the girls' quinceaneras they went to,” he said. “It was crazy!”