OLAS hosts Miss Latinoamérica for the first time in three years

Dominic Di Palermo, Editor-in-Chief

The front of Building G’s Spartan Auditorium was illuminated by bright stage lights that bounced off the hundreds of balloons at the back of the stage. Energetic Latin music prepared guests for the beginning of the Miss Latinoamérica pageant presented by the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS).

OLAS President Miriam Salas explained it’s the first time in three years that the pageant has been held by OLAS due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The club had been preparing since the fall semester.

Seven ECC students signed up to represent seven different Latin-American countries in the Miss Latinoamérica pageant presented by OLAS. The contestants represented the countries of Belize, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

The contestants were judged by a panel of five different judges who were all either ECC faculty or alumni. Contestants were judged in three different phases. In the first phase, the contestants were judged on their introductions, aspirations and charisma.

Local sponsors donated money for three contestants to win an ECC scholarship. ECC President Dr. David Sam was in attendance and made a special announcement, awarding each contestant a $100 scholarship.

At the end of the night, one was selected to don the title Miss Latinoamérica and receive a $500 scholarship. Second and third place runners-up also received a scholarship of $100.

The title of Miss Latinoamérica was awarded to third-year student Kate Moreno, who represented Venezuela.

“It means a lot, everything I said on stage being a Latina woman, being in college, I mean it,” Moreno said. “I just want to encourage more Latina women to pursue higher education I know it’s not instant gratification like what we’re used to but it’s that delayed gratification. We need to be more represented, and I’d love to represent us.”

Salas and Co-Social Officer Diana Gomez called out the contestants, who introduced themselves and the countries they represented in Spanish.

After each contestant was introduced the song, “Despecha” by Latin music artist Rosalía played and the girls performed a choreographed dance they had learned a month prior.

“…I have never participated in something like this,” said second-year student Cassandra Valdes, who represented Belize. “But I do feel at home at stage, being involved in musical theater and dancing productions.”

Valdes explained that she’s been dancing since she was four and started musical theater about five years ago in high school. During her time at ECC, she joined Ballet Folklorico Huehuecoyotl (BFH), a folkloric dance group that performed during the pageant.

Alondra Nunez, Miss Mexico, explained she had experience performing in culture, stage, and poms dances. She shared her reason for participating.

“I’m a daughter of immigrant parents and also a daughter of a DACA recipient, so this really means a lot for me to participate as miss Mexico as I always try to be proud of Mexican culture,” Nunez said.

After the girl’s introduction, BFH took the stage. Girls in bright, colorful and flowy Jalisco ribbon dresses twirled around the stage. Men dressed as charros (horsemen) masqueraded their faces with large sombreros contrasting the girls elegantly twirling their colorful dresses.

In phase two, the contestants were judged on their cultural knowledge of their countries and the cultural dresses they wore.

Moreno wore a white dress with red, yellow and blue ribbons sewed onto the sleeves. The three colors are the colors of Venezuela’s flag. Moreno explained that she couldn’t find a dress representative of Venezuela and sought help from a family friend to sew the ribbons on a white dress like the style worn in Venezuela.

After their culture presentations, a short intermission was taken and phase three of judging began. Phase three was for the five finalists, Miss Belize, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela. The five finalists answered questions that they picked out of a fishbowl.

Moreno answered the question: “As a Latina woman, why do you think it’s important to pursue a higher education?”

“…I’ve been put in a position before where somebody doubted my capabilities and my abilities and I don’t want that to happen to other people,” Moreno said. “I don’t feel the need to prove my high school counselor wrong or my advisor wrong…But I do feel the need to make them believe in younger women of color that are coming after me. I want to clear a path for them and make it known that we are so capable, and we are so smart. I want every girl to be propelled and encouraged to pursue an education, to reach their goals [and] to achieve their full potential.

Moreno plans to continue her education after ECC and obtaining a degree in applied mathematics. She currently has an internship at Fermi Lab and intends to pursue research after college. Eventually her goal is to become a college professor.

“I feel like education is very important and well my mom’s a teacher, she’s an educator,” Moreno said. “…she taught me the value of education and I want to pass that on to others.”

Throughout the event, many of the other contestants shared their pride for their culture and heritage.

“My heritage is my whole identity,” Valdes said. “I come from both Mexican parents, and I was raised in a Mexican household. The sound, the colors the music, the beautiful traditions my parents passed down to me has just become I identify with so strongly. Especially being in a folkloric group that’s helped me stay connected to my roots.”

Janice Palacio, Miss El Salvador, explained that though she’s Mexican, she had a lot of prior experience with her represented country’s culture. Palacio said that the person who inspired her to sign up for the competition taught her about El Salvadorian food and cultural practices.

The role of culture wasn’t just talked about by contestants. OLAS Secretary Chair Pauline Maciel discussed the importance of her culture in her life.

“I was born in Venezuela totally new to the American culture,” Maciel said. “I feel like an outsider sometimes and yet with OLAS we found a way to get to express our culture a bit more. We’re happy to let everyone know that we are proud of being form Latin America. We love our parents and we’re really proud of them coming here to the country so they could give us a nice and better education…”

Salas explained that one of OLAS’ goals is to create a sense of community for the large population of Hispanic Latinos (47%) at ECC.

“Our mission includes promoting Latin-American culture,” Maciel added. “MLA (Misslationoamérica) is just a piece of that. …I guess all of us get to understand a little more about each other’s cultures and backgrounds and that’s really amazing, that’s really fun for us to do. …It’s been a really nice experience.”