The seven young women onstage at the Zacatecano Cultural Center in Brighton Park last Sunday night were dressed to impress, wearing red tops and black skirts with coiffed hair and makeup fit for a prom night. Over the course of the evening, they strutted their stuff like runway models, and each gave a short speech. Eventually, they knew, one of them would win a crown and a sash and become the “Miss” representative of their community. But this was not your usual beauty pageant–the speeches and introductions were all in Spanish, and the true prize for the winner will be a trip to the Mexican state of Zacatecas, courtesy of the state government.
Though not unimportant, beauty was secondary to celebrating Zacatecano culture at this cultural pageant. “We want to remember our origins,” explained 20-year-old contestant Alejandra DÃaz. “Regardless of where we grew up, we’re still Zacatecanos and we want to represent that with dignity and honor.” Preparations for the pageant began in April, when coordinator Rocio Perez began coaching the girls in skills like modeling and speaking (Spanish, not Spanglish), as well as offering classes on Zacatecano history and culture. Sunday’s event was only the first of the girls’ public appearances, which will culminate with the crowning of a winner at a banquet on July 18. At the end of July, she will join 60 to 80 other young Zacatecano women from U.S. immigrant communities in traveling throughout Zacatecas, visiting cultural and historical landmarks as well as orphanages and nursing homes.
The winner’s long selection process is all the better for celebrating, which the approximately 140 audience members did with much gusto once they arrived. About an hour and a half after the scheduled start of 7pm, the sharply dressed nine-piece Tamborazo Zacatecano (Zacatecas big drum band) began to perform, and the pageant participants quickly converged on the dance floor. More and more people kept arriving, so that when the girls took the stage, there was a proper crowd of supporters to loudly cheer each of them on. Even after the pageant itself ended at 10, Zacatecanos continued to show up for the party.