Becoming Miss Arlington- San Miguel Sister City

“Being in a pageant is not just about beauty. It’s more about service to the community and being a role model and making a difference. It’s being proud of your city. It’s all what you put into it…” -Chantel Giamanco

I never imagined participating in a pageant, let alone winning. Among my many dreams and aspirations being a beauty queen, sure was not one of them. But life presents you with unexpected opportunities that are sometimes disguised- this is why you should never say never.

I remember getting a phone call from Jorge, the President of the Home Town association I am apart of. He asked me how I would feel representing our community and helping other Salvadoran institutions. I thought so far, so good. I would be representing my community and helping my country. Then he added, “you have to compete against other girls in a beauty pageant.” I laughed- ” that’s a NO for me,” I said all confident. For starters, I thought pageants were so vain, and I also felt like there is always a certain image people look for: tall, slim,  charming. Jorge did not take no for an answer and sent me the contract. “Read over it, come up with questions and think about it. I’ll follow up in a week,” he said.

I have always been insecure about my physical appearance, and this proposition of running against other girls just made me more insecure.  Why couldn’t this be a writing competition or something academic, I thought because that is where I feel the most confident. If I wanted to be a queen, I’d want to be the queen of spelling, I thought. At 23 I had put on a lot of weight I was no longer 90lbs I was 130lbs, and it showed. I have always been on the shorter end 4’8 to be exact. How was I going to convince others that I should win when I didn’t even think I had a chance. 

I read and re-read the contract over and over again. As if re-reading it a million times would somehow help me come up with a good enough reason as to why I should ignore my gut and take a chance and run. I called the number on the contract, and  I asked to meet with the Arlington Sister City Association (ASCA) representatives- I wanted to make an informed decision and meet the people I’d be working with. After asking a million and one questions, and getting to meet the team I was no longer on the fence. 

I started to see this as an opportunity. If I participated and I won, a percentage of the money raised at the events would go towards a community project of my choice. The remainder of the money would go towards a nursing home and an orphanage in San Miguel. This was no longer about feeling pretty or being skinny. This became a challenge. How bad did I want to help my community and what would I do to achieve my goal. 

Not to mention I had amazing people supporting me and encouraging me to take this opportunity. I had my mom, sister, extended family, and the Committee I am a part of behind me. They would all later play a huge role throughout the entire series of events that were going to unfold.

Photo credit: Roberto Burgos for El Salvador Sin Fronteras
Pictured from Left to right: Douglas Romero, Saul Castillo, Hernan Umaña, Jorge Salinas
sitting: Maria Benavides (My mom), Analucy Benavides (me), Elizabeth Salinas

A couple of weeks after my 23rd birthday, I signed the contract an accepted the challenge. I was in this pageant to win- to give something back to my community and to build my own legacy. So I started thinking big and thinking about the impossible because I knew that I could make it possible.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and I also knew I had to start believing in myself. It was hard. For whatever reason, I felt embarrassed to tell anyone I was running. I was scared of being mocked and the center of all the jokes. If you know my family, you know they joke hard, and you have to have tough skin. 

So I kept this a secret until it was time to announce to the public that I was running… little did I know that nothing or no one could prepare me for what was to come.

Photo Credit: Roberto Burgos for El Salvador Sin Fronteras