This article is part of Texas Monthly’s special fiftieth-anniversary issue. Read about the other icons that have defined Texas since 1973.

The first documented quinceañeras, parties held to celebrate a fifteen-year-old girl’s passage into womanhood, took place in the forties in northern Mexico and South Texas. The events were usually held in a Catholic church, followed by a party and dinner at the family’s home. There, the celebrated girl might perform a dance and pull on her first pair of high heels. 

By the seventies, quinceañeras had spread to other parts of the country but had become more subdued in Texas, as Latinos continued to move up the class ladder. Many Latinos had come to think of the celebrations as out of touch at a moment when Chicano political activism and organizing had come to the fore. 

But today quinceañeras are bigger than ever, often wildly extravagant and conducted in prominent public spaces. If you visit the Houston Galleria any weekend, you’ll likely find girls posing for pictures in their flashy dresses and tiaras. The average quince now runs more than $20,000.

This shift is largely the result of the Hispanic community’s growing financial success. Rachel González-Martin, a professor of Mexican American and Latina/o studies at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Quinceañera Style: Social Belonging and Latinx Consumer Identities, said that many Latinos are leaning into extravagance. “[This pushes] back on the public narrative that assumes that Latinos are working- or under-class,” she said. “Latino consumption and Latino social success are on display.” 

The corporate world has noticed. There are quinceañera-themed reality TV shows, expos held in every major Texas city, and princess-themed quince dresses sold by Disney. It’s a $49 billion industry globally. 

And then there’s San Antonio’s Maya Henry, who in 2016 was at the center of a $6 million quince that featured a performance by the reggaeton singer Pitbull. Maya’s mother said she wanted to give her daughter “an unforgettable night” to mark her coming of age. But there was likely another goal in sight as well: the party made the pages of Teen Vogue and the Daily Mail, producing headlines not just for Maya but for her father, the personal injury lawyer Thomas J. Henry. Soon the Henrys were household names, with their own reality series, Hangin’ With Los Henrys

The quinceañera, which began as a celebration of a girl’s transition into womanhood, can now be recast as something else entirely: a vehicle for an ambitious family to transition into minor-league celebrityhood.

This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Quinceañeras Come of Age.” Subscribe today.