WASCO, Calif. (KGET) — It’s a rite of passage in the Latina community, and an especially important milestone for a 15 year old girl. It’s a fiesta called a quinceañera and it’s important because it symbolizes the transition from childhood to young womanhood.
Aleena Lopez of Wasco has been looking forward to hers. Her 15th birthday is Aug. 20 — but she’ll be indisposed. Aleena expects to be undergoing chemotherapy and she may not still have her beautiful long dark hair when it’s time for the festivities.
In July 2019, nurse practitioner Kimberly Gonzalez was seeing little sister Adaliyah for a minor ailment when something in Aleena’s voice got her attention.
“I jokingly asked her to open up her mouth,” Gonzalez said, “and I saw a big ol’ mass in her throat, and I immediately took her sister off the exam table and put her on there.”
It turned out to be a rare sarcoma — an alveolar soft part sarcoma, to be precise — and Aleena was referred to Madera Children’s Hospital. Now, more than a year and a half later, doctors are still working out treatment options. Chemo and radiation are is likely possibilities.
But what about the quinceañera?
“My cousin had one before and I just looked up to her,” Aleena said. “She looked like a real princess. … Like, I couldn’t wait to be in her shoes. I can’t wait be in a big dress and have everyone there.”
The family decided to move up the celebration to April 10. Her mother, Christina Barboza, posted about it on social media and a wonderful thing happened. Word got out, as it often does on Facebook, and complete strangers starting lining up to donate things to Aleena’s April quinceañera. Flowers, balloons, a cake, and possibly the mariachi band.
Irma Garza Green, a special event planner, has helped organize things. She’s never met the Lopez-Barboza family.
“I reached out to all of my friends and my vendors and they’ve really come through for me, ” she said. “They have all been so gracious and very generous, offering their services to bring together for this little girl.”
Quinceañeras are so special because oftentimes they bring together an entire community. Aleena Lopez’s community, it turns out, is big indeed and growing.
If you’d like to help Aleena have a memorable quinceañera, you can email her mother Christina Barboza at email@example.com.