Last year’s Miss Latina Pageant in Connecticut ran the gamut from gussied up toddlers (Miss Tiny Latina) to teenage girls (Miss Reina Latina) in gowns.
This year, the pageant will include something else – boys.
The New Bedford, Conn., event was such a success last year that the organizer, the Puerto Rican and Latin American Arts and Culture Committee, decided to expand the event to include, “los muchachos,” according to the New Bedford Standard-Times.
"We want to break that stigma that it's only 'Miss Latina,'" said committee president Angie Vargas.
Vargas told the Standard-Times that after having escorted the contestants down the runway last year, a number of the boys spoke up about participating.
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“I can be a good Mr. Latino. I can be the king," Vargas said some of the boys complained. "And seeing that pride in the sound of their voices that they really wanted to do it, it made us really think about it."
The pageant takes place on June 21, but auditions begin on Wednesday. Those participating must live in New Bedford and have at least one parent or grandparent of Latino descent.
Many of participants’ parents have a history with beauty pageants in Latin America.
Maria Jovel, 15, is on the fence about entering the contest, but her mother, Joseline Fernandes was crowned Miss Coamo in Puerto Rico in 1986. Maria told the paper that tensions sometimes exist between Latinos of different national backgrounds and events like these help change that.
"It's not about who's prettier or who's not pretty," she said. "As long as you show who you are and inspire yourself and show everyone how you look and how you talk to people—that's what's more important."
Maria Carrascoza would agree. Her 7-year-old daughter was transformed after winning last year, she said. "She was a very timid girl,” Carrascoza told the newspaper, “then she entered the pageant and now she's very different. She speaks to you without fear."
Some pageant parents assert that there are other benefits for kids who enter the event beyond self-confidence. Eileen Vargas, whose daughter Emily Guzman was another of last year’s winners, pointed out that the pageant obliges participants to speak Spanish, even if English is their preferred language.
"At the pageant, we can learn more about our culture, the cultures of different countries, because oftentimes it's easy to feel alone [in the U.S.]," Vargas said. "It makes you feel like you're at home."