FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Entering her magical quinceanera on by her father’s arm, her tiara sparkling and her fuchsia ballgown trimmed with ruffles to perfectly match her cake, Adriana Palma scanned the crowd for familiar faces.
Most of the guests were strangers. But they would soon become like family — without them, this Parisian pink fairy tale of a 15th birthday party would never have come to life.
At least one very important person was missing — Adriana’s grandmother, who according to custom would have imparted wisdom and a special gift. She remained in Mexico.
“Don’t worry,” a volunteer at the homeless shelter told Adriana before the February celebration. “Today, we are all your godmothers.”
When the teen left Mexico in early 2020, she looked forward to a new life in Miami with her parents and three younger brothers. But when the pandemic hit, her father’s job disappeared.
Alone and impoverished, they spent four months living in their SUV. Adriana and her brothers — hungry and unfamiliar with English — crammed in homework assignments whenever they could find WiFi.
The Miami Rescue Mission had been inundated with housing requests after the pandemic, but in June they found a small apartment for the Palmas. The family slowly adapted to new routines.
But Adriana’s 15th birthday was coming, a day she had dreamt of since she was a little girl. Quinceaneras are revered in Hispanic culture and celebrated with all the gusto of a wedding. But after her father lost his job, Adriana said, “I lost all hope of having one.”