There was the traditional dress, music, food, and the dance — first with the dad and then with the chambelán. And there was the toast.
Everything for a Quinceañera (the celebration of a girl's 15th birthday).
Everything except alcohol.
This was a “dry” Quinceañera. The party for a San Fernando teen was paid for by Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization, under the condition that there would be no alcohol of any type. The toast was made instead with apple cider.
This was the first time the Phoenix House had sponsored such an event, and hopes to do so again next year.
“We wanted to have a culturally acceptable event and at the same time fight against underage drinking,” said Maribel Briseño, prevention coordinator for the Lake View Terrace-based organization.
“We wanted to send the message that you can have a good time without having alcohol. In prevention you have to think outside the box. You have to change that normal.”
Serving alcohol has often been “the normal” at a Quinceañera, a party meant to represent the transition of a young girl into a young woman. Often, the party is sponsored by padrinos who pay for every aspect of the party: the food, the hall, and the drinks, which inevitably include beer and other spirits.
This particular Quinceañera event was aligned with the campaign “Parents who host lose the most,” an effort to inform parents that if they host a party where there’s underage drinking they can face stiff fines and even jail time should a tragedy occur.
“Because this is a celebratory time, this is the perfect time to do it,” Briseño said, adding that the Phoenix House offers more than 120 programs in ten states, serving 18,000 adults and teens each year.
The party for 100 guests — held at San Fernando Park on Saturday, June 1 — took about a year of planning with the help of the Community Prevention Advisory Board, made up of different nonprofits from the San Fernando Valley.
Mediterranean food was served at the celebration, marked by a light blue and white theme a la “Cinderella.” Several local businesses donated items for the party; others offered discounts. Still the cost of the event was about $10,000, Briseño said.
To select a girl who would get the free party, Phoenix House sent announcements to different schools, and the applications started coming in.
The winner was Mireyari Pacheco, a 10th grader at Vaughn International Studies Academy in San Fernando, who had dreamed of a Quinceañera, but knew her parents couldn’t afford it.
“I’m excited and nervous about the dance,” Mireyari said before the traditional vals (waltz) with her father, Eleazar Pacheco, followed by a dance with her chambelán Luis Mercado.
She admitted her grandfather – who recently passed away – had a drinking problem. She’d also constantly done volunteer work in the community, factors that helped her being selected.
She is convinced alcohol is not necessary to have a good time.
“We just want to have a fun time with friends and family,” Mireyari said.
“Shocked” by Selection
When told she had been selected after a couple of interviews, Mireyari said, “I was shocked. When they told me it didn’t [sink in at first].”
Her family was also stunned.
“I feel like in a dream,” said Mireya Pacheco, her mother. “I feel blessed.”
She added none of her guests complained about the no alcohol at the party. “I think they even thought it was a good idea,” Mireya said.
Eleazar also expressed gratitude.
“We simply planned to take her to the mall to buy something,” he said. “God blessed us with these people who did everything.”
He agreed that alcohol is not a necessity at the party.
“It’s better if there’s no alcohol because you get problems. There could be fights, accidents when they leave the party. Tragedies occur,” Eleazar said.
Eleven percent of all the alcohol consumed in the United States is drunk by people under 21 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is illegal for anyone under 21 to buy, or attempt to buy, any alcoholic beverage. And any adult allowing those under age 21 to drink alcohol may be cited or arrested, fined up to $1,000 or more, serve up to six months in jail and face additional fines for law enforcement services, according to county officials.