The XX Factor

What Happens When More Than a Million People RSVP to a 15-Year-Old’s Birthday Party

Rubí Ibarra and her father Cresencio dance at her 15th birthday party in Villa Guadalupe, San Luis Potosi on Dec. 26, 2016. 

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

What would it feel like to be the most popular girl in the world? A Mexican girl named Rubí Ibarra found out when more than a million people RSVPed to her 15th birthday party.

Rubí’s adventure started a few weeks ago, when her father filmed a video invitation to her quinceañera, a birthday tradition akin to Sweet 16 party. The brief missive, featuring Rubí and her parents standing outside, invited “everybody” to the party in a rural part of the state of San Luis Potosí. Maybe it was her silent mother’s pink sweater, her father’s earnest delivery, his cowboy hat, or Rubí herself in leopard print and a rhinestone tiara. Her father’s mention of a chiva—“goat” in Spanish, and regional slang for a horse race—was a particular hit. Whatever the magic ingredient was, the low-key invitation became a viral sensation.

The family later said that they had meant to just invite locals: “Everybody,” not everybody. By then they had learned that online, everyone’s a local. As the invitation spread, the family appeared on morning talk shows, and an airline offered a 30 percent discount on flights to San Luis Potosí for the party, “Goat not included.” Local authorities prepared for the party with extra security measures, and a state congressman called for backup from the Red Cross. A popular Norteño singer composed a song for the occasion, calling it “the party of the year.”

The Mexican actor Gael García Bernal appeared in a video parodying the invitation:

The much-hyped party took place on Monday, and although not everyone who RSVP-ed showed up to the ranch—rude!—thousands did. Rubí was resplendent in a tiered fuschia gown and a tiara. The day began with a Mass in her honor, and proceeded to the big event, the chiva. The Associated Press, which does not typically cover birthday parties, described the atmosphere thusly:

Family members had to open a path for the girl through dozens of reporters and photographers snapping her picture so she could reach a Mass for her in a field in the state of San Luis Potosi. A large billboard saying “Welcome to my 15th birthday party” with Rubi’s picture towered over the tents and tables filled with food.

Like all heartwarming viral stories, this one looks a little messier under the microscope. A 66-year-old man was trampled to death in the horse race, and another man was injured. Rubí looked overwhelmed at times, with strangers crowding around her for selfies. The front page of one newspaper announced that the party had caused a scandal, with the girl’s mother lashing out at journalists. The Dallas Morning News declared that “the Internet wrecked” the party. But then again, the internet made the party, too.