Circle of Hope: Alexandra’s Quinceañera
By Lisa Tillman
|Alexandra (center) with her Quinceañera Court|
How many 15-year-old girls do you know who would tell their guests not to bring any gifts to the party?
Meet Alexandra Contreras. When she celebrated her Quinceañera this January in San Antonio, that’s exactly what she did.
In many Hispanic cultures, a Quinceañera is a traditional celebration marking the passage of a 15-year-old girl from childhood to adulthood. Also called a “fifteenth debut,” this cultural milestone is both religious and social. It begins with a church Mass, and is followed by a celebratory reception.
Alexandra, an eighth-grader, asked the nearly 300 guests attending her Quinceañera to make a donation to the Lupus Foundation of America instead of bringing her a gift. Her mom, Maria, was diagnosed with lupus nephritis, which affects the kidneys, in 2010.
Maria says she was completely shocked when her daughter told her she wanted donations instead of gifts. “It’s not typical. Every Quinceañera we’ve gone to, the table is piled with gifts— you need two trucks to take the gifts back. Nobody had ever heard of this.”
“I want them to donate to the Lupus Foundation,” Alexandra told her mom as they drove home from school this past fall, “We’re going to find a cure for you.”
Alexandra’s 16-year-old brother Christopher was in the car that day, too. “It was a complete surprise,” he recalls.
Alexandra and her family have been through a lot in the last couple of years. Maria’s father-in-law and brother both passed away around the time she was diagnosed with lupus, and Maria’s niece, who they are in the process of adopting, came to live with them. Maria worried constantly about her own health. She feared she wouldn’t make it to Alexandra’s Quinceañera, but was determined to be there. She wanted her family to be able to enjoy the celebration. “Their world had been turned upside down,” Maria explains, “I thought it was time for a party.”
|L-R: Sylvia Arcos and Amy Humphry from the LFA, South Texas Chapter, Maria Contreras, and Alexandra Contreras|
Sylvia Arcos, chairperson of the Lupus Foundation of America’s South-Central Texas Chapter, was stunned by Alexandra’s generosity. “I couldn’t believe it. When a girl turns fifteen and has this big debut event, it’s almost like a wedding without the groom. It’s a very big event for a fifteen-year-old girl and the parents have spent a lot to do this for her, so I was shocked that she wanted to do this.”
But Alexandra and her family weren’t satisfied with just donating money. They also saw the Quinceañera as an opportunity to help raise awareness of lupus. They asked Sylvia to set up an information table at the reception where people could drop off their donations, and find answers to any questions that they had about lupus. “I couldn’t believe I was representing lupus at a Quinceañera event,” Sylvia recalls. “People wanted to know how to help her mother and they wanted to be part of the research. I thought it was amazing.”
Alexandra had a great time at her Quinceañera. At the Mass she sang a beautiful a capella solo of “Ave Maria,” and afterwards joined friends and family for dinner and dancing at Lackland Air Force Base. Alexandra says she’d been looking forward to her Quinceañera for a long time because it meant she was finally becoming a young woman.
Yet Alexandra Contreras is so much more: she is also a truly generous person who, out of love for her mother, has donated more than $2000 to the Lupus Foundation of America.
“I hope,” Alexandra says, “that they’ll take the money and find a cure.”