A huge crowd turned out Monday to celebrate the 15th birthday of Rubi Ibarra, a small-town Mexican girl — though it was fewer than the 1.3 million people who said they were coming after the invitation went viral online.
Girls’ 15th birthday parties are often a huge affair in Latin America, when families pull out all the stops to welcome them to womanhood.
Family members had to open a path for the girl through reporters and photographers snapping her picture so she could reach the Mass for her in a field in central San Luis Potosi state. A large billboard saying “Welcome to my 15th birthday party” with Rubi’s picture towered over the tents and tables filled with food.
Thousands of people from across Mexico poured into the community of La Joya for the “quinceanera” celebration, a traditional coming-of-age party similar to American “sweet sixteen” parties in which Mexican families often throw big, costly bashes for their daughters.
“I came to see if they would give me a dress for my granddaughter for her 15th birthday in May,” said Victoriano Obregon, who came all the way from the northern state of Coahuila for an event which by Monday evening resembled a rock concert with music and large crowds.
Rubi’s bash gained national and international notoriety in early December after a local event photographer posted on his Facebook page a video of the girl’s father describing a down-home birthday party complete with food, local bands and horse races. In the video, cowboy hat-wearing Crescencio Ibarra haltingly but proudly describes the party and prizes, before announcing that “everyone is cordially invited.”
Rubi’s mother later explained that Crescencio had only been referring to everyone in the neighboring communities, not the world, but by then the video had been picked up dozens of times on Youtube and had been seen by millions, sparking tributes by musical stars, jokes and offers of sponsorships by companies.
Mexican airline Interjet published a promotion offering 30-percent discounts on flights to San Luis Potosi, under the slogan “Are you going to Rubi’s party?”
Internet jokesters published photos of troops of turkeys, backhoes stirring giant caldrons of soup and massive crowds “heading for Rubi’s party.”
Actor Gael Garcia made a parody video of the invitation, and norteno singer Luis Antonio Lopez “El Mimoso” composed a “corrido” song especially for Rubi. The humble daughter of ranchers even got an offer to appear on the soap opera “The Rose of Guadalupe.”
“What happened with Rubi is an interesting example of how the internet amplifies and makes hyper-transparent people’s personal lives and how traditional media look for stories on social networks to bring in new audiences” who they have been losing, said Sergio Octavio Contreras, a communications professor at Mexico’s La Salle Bajio University.
Jose Antonio Sosa, an expert on social media at the Iberoamericana University, said the country’s obsession with Rubi’s birthday party reflected a need for lighter stories in a society weary of violence and economic problems.
All the attention seemed to take the poor communities near where Rubi’s family lived aback. The access roads were blocked with cars and state police and Red Cross workers monitored the situation.
Some locals said they hoped something good could come out of it for the communities, which have a mezcal distillery but where residents are pleading for cellphone coverage.
“More than anything, this can bring attention to us … so people can see the unemployment,” said local resident Rutilio Ibarra.
However, the birthday celebrations ended on a sad note when two men were trampled by horses during a race.
One of the men died of his injuries and the other suffered a broken leg, the state’s attorney general said.
In the video invitation Rubi’s father said there would be a 10,000-peso (460-dollar) prize for the winner of the horse race.