By Desmond Boylan
“I started saving up for my daughters’ quinceañera party [coming-out celebration for 15-year-olds] over five years ago,” says Marlen, the mother of Carmen, who reached the age of fifteen this month. “I managed to put away money every month, by doing some odd jobs, separating some also from my husband’s retirement pension and adding to that some help from my family in the east of the country, plus selling off some worn out clothes and repairing other garments.”
Marlen managed to save just over 8,000 Cuban pesos, close to $300.
In Cuba’s economy, you cannot just go to the bank and ask for a loan; there is no culture of credit. All payments must be made in cash, so if you want to buy something you must cough up the whole cost at the moment of purchase. With the average monthly salary around $18, it’s not easy to save. But as the Cubans say, it is not easy but it is not difficult either. The amount saved up for the quinceañera celebration is huge for parents and is a really admirable amount for an average Cuban family to achieve. In this case, merit is even higher as it was done mostly by Carmen’s mother.
All Cuban girls dream of having a special quinceañera celebration. It really is a big deal for them, as big as, or even bigger than, a wedding. It is also especially expensive as the costs must be borne by just one family.
But Carmen’s dream finally did come true.
During my research I learned that in Cuba there is a profitable industry that moves around quinceañeras. At the high end, people like Cuban-Americans travel to the island and spend thousands of dollars on the occasion. They hire special houses with full photographic studios where pictures are taken, rent expensive dresses, produce sophisticated invitations, pay for photo books, rent five-star hotels and limousines and vintage cars.
People with fewer resources also have their celebrations, simpler and less costly, but a lot of effort and saving is involved. This was the case of Carmen’s, which was done on a much lower budget, but nevertheless the process was very arduous and tortuous.