My super sweet 15

A massive heat wave has hit California, but instead of taking to the beach, a hundred teenage girls stand in a line that wraps around a block in downtown Los Angeles. They’re accompanied by moms, grandparents, and little sisters on this sweltering June afternoon for the Quinceañ Los Angeles Expo. For the 3,000 attendees, it’s a chance to see what’s new and cool for the celebration widely observed throughout the Latino community to mark a girl’s 15th birthday.

Inside, the lights are low and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s Spanglish hit “Despacito”blares on repeat over the loudspeaker. This is how we do it down in Puerto Rico, I just wanna hear you screaming “¡Ay, Bendito!,” I can move forever cuando esté contigo. Everyone bops along as they go from booth to booth; there are more than 100 vendors to meet. The quinceañera traditionally involves both a Catholic mass and a party, and the expo exists to help make your wildest quince dreams come true.

Down one aisle, a quinceañera planner shows off a multitiered centerpiece made of roses, hydrangeas, and crystals. Across the way, an entertainment company has installed a DJ behind a turntable; he plays his set while a brand rep demonstrates how squares on the dance floor light up when stepped on. Around the corner, a bakery displays novelty cakes shaped like the Eiffel Tower and a bottle of Chanel No. 5. A mariachi band plays live music, entertaining those waiting in line at a taco truck handing out free samples.

Venues like the South Coast Botanic Gardens, which can accommodate up to 1,000 guests, have tables set up, as do hotel chains like Sheraton and Marriott. Representatives from Men’s Wearhouse walk around, flagging down the few dads in the crowd to gift them with goodie bags and flyers. Photographers entice families with images from quinceañera photo shoots in churches, at the beach, at Disneyland. NYX and Mary Kay offer makeup tutorials. Little girls ask to have their photos taken with models in dresses with pink tulle skirts and cascades of champagne-colored ruffles from quince fashion company Moda 2000. An all-day runway show with looks from Moda and several other dress companies is held at the back of the room.

The lavishness of the expo is shocking to Dolores Garcia, a mom from the nearby city of Carson. She is planning two quinceañeras over the next year and a half, for her 13- and 14-year-old daughters. Garcia looks around and shakes her head.

“It feels so commercial,” she says. “We came here to see dresses and get ideas for decorations, but I didn’t envision anything being this over the top. My daughter has already told me that she wants an elegant party though, nothing crazy.”

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