SAN BENITO — From colorful gowns and tiered cakes to tear-jerking father-daughter dances, it’s almost every Latina girl’s dream to have her very own quinceañera on her 15th birthday.

However, in order to create these elaborate, traditional celebrations, usually a large sum of money is needed.

This is something Gilbert Galvan, Sr. says he noticed was hindering many of his students’ dreams of having their special night.

As principal of Veterans Memorial Academy, San Benito CISD’s all-freshman campus, Galvan, Sr. says he’s received many quinceañera invitations.

“I was visiting the cafeteria and some students had seen me with a few invitations in my hand,” Galvan, Sr. said. “I asked them if they were going to have one and they told me they would never be able to because they couldn’t afford it. So, I told them if they wanted a quinceañera, they were going to get one.”

With the help of district personnel, volunteers, sponsors and the community, Galvan, Sr. began organizing annual quinceañera celebrations for his students and their families six years ago.

“We asked for donations for dresses, the music and everything,” he said. “That’s the dream of these young ladies and we work together to make it come true.”

His son, Gilbert Galvan, Jr., said the event grew from hosting quinceañeras for four students in its first year to about 85.

“San Benito has always had a very pro-quinceañera culture,” Galvan, Sr. said. “I feel this is a very great thing that is working wonderfully.”

Documenting dreams

Upon entering the school’s fourth quinceañera, Galvan, Jr. felt inspired to share his father’s initiative with other communities.

“I had been looking for a film to create and I thought this would really fit in well with my want to promote and showcase the Latino/Hispanic culture and where I grew up,” Galvan, Jr. explained. “That’s what inspired me to go forward with creating a documentary.”

This week, the film, “Our Quinceañera Documentary,” will make its way to the big screen in the Valley.

A RSVP screening of “Our Quinceañera Documentary” will be held Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Cinemark Theater in Harlingen for city and school officials, film contributors and those involved with the film.

Galvan, Jr. said he is going to know by Monday or Tuesday if there are any additional seats available for the screening that can be open to the public.

The documentary will also be shown Friday, Oct. 4 at the Veterans Memorial Academy for students and faculty.

The film’s impact

According to Galvan, Jr. the film was produced in one year, which he said he considers being a remarkable turnaround.

“In our opinion, the documentary came out even better than we expected it to,” Galvan, Jr. admitted. “Everything from the girls’ stories to showing the city came together perfectly and the whole team is really excited about that.”

In May, the documentary won an audience award for Best Featured Documentary at the Bentonville Film Festival, an annual event in Arkansas that was created to celebrate diversity.

According to Fanny Grande, a producer and director of the documentary film, the crew was focused on showing positive aspects of the Latino community.

“In these times when there are such negative things being said about the community it’s really good to have a documentary film that truly portrays the positive side of our culture,” Grande said. “Every country from Latin America celebrates the quinceañera in a certain way, so to be able to highlight how a community comes together to make these girls feel like a princess for a day is just beautiful.”

Grande says she believes the film also serves as a celebration of educators.

“We’ve screened it only twice so far and there have been educators in the audience that have said, thank you,” she explained. “They’re the everyday heroes. Mr. Galvan is very dedicated to the future of students and he’s dedicated his whole life to it.”

Galvan, Jr. says it makes him feel proud to have created something that will show many communities how much his dad cares about his.

“My dad has been my hero my entire life,” Galvan, Jr. said. “He loves his town; he does everything he can to give back and he’s been an educator for more than 40 years. He really cares about doing whatever he can to help the community and his students.”

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

• A quiñceanera is a Latino celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday.

• A RSVP screening of “Our Quinceañera Documentary” will be held Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Cinemark Theater in Harlingen for city and school officials, film contributors and those involved with the film.

• The documentary will also be shown Friday, Oct. 4, at the Veterans Memorial Academy for students and faculty.

• To learn more about the documentary, visit https://tinyurl.com/y3nxk2ba