Que Viva La Reina! Nationalism in Beauty Pageants Beyond Miss America

Every third weekend in July, the streets of my hometown fill with thousands chanting “Que Viva La Reina!” and “Que Viva Nuevo México!”[1] These nationalistic chants are a defining aspect of Las Fiestas, a ‘celebration’ of the colonial return of the Spanish to New Mexico after their expulsion in 1680.[2] The recipients of this nationalist chanting, notably La Reina, are worth examining because La Reina is crowned only after winning a local beauty pageant.

In this pageant, usually held a month before Las Fiestas, local women participate with the goal of demonstrating that they are “New Mexican enough,” specifically “Taoseño enough” to faithfully represent the community and its values as the pageant travels moves throughout the state. By asking these women to meet this standard, the pageant “calls up a relationship between discourses of nation and discourses of femininity” as described by Sarah Banet-Weiser (6).[3] Only by successfully proving to the judges that they are sufficiently “New Mexican” that a teenage girl can become La Reina.

The picture below is an example of how contestants employ clothing, make up, and jewelry to convince judges that they stand for authenticity within the community:[4]

Picture1.png    Caption:  La Reina Jenna Peralta is center. Her Princesses Sofia Silva and Sonya Vigil flank her. Picture from 2014 Fiesta Guide (source #4).

However, the Fiesta Guide (source #4), which details the pageant process in depth, discusses aspects of the pageant that challenge the framework discussed by Banet-Weiser’s framework, particularly in the context of the following question: “whose nationalism is at play in a pageant?” Banet-Weiser discusses “contemporary American nationalism” while analyzing pageants and comments that these pageants “treat non-white bodies as a specter – the marked other – against which ideal female citizen is defined” (Banet-Weiser, 7).

Banet-Weiser’s analysis is complicated by Las Fiestas. As noted by Teresa Dovalpage, who interviewed a Taos Fiesta Royalty Pageant Coordinator, there are only three (four, really) requirements to become a Reina or Princesa (Queen or Princess):

1. Be a the young lady between the ages of 16 and 19,
2. Be a practicing Catholic,
3. Bear a Spanish surname (and appropriate family history).[5]

Like Miss America, Las Fiestas’ Royal Pageant is rooted in a construction of beauty that centers whiteness due to the pageant’s roots in Spanish colonialism. Like Miss America, the Fiesta Royal Pageant focuses on proving belonging and citizenship to a certain group

Unlike Miss America, where the standard of true beauty is white, the standard of true national citizenship is ‘American,’ and where standards are only broken to claim faux progressivism – Las Fiestas is rooted in desire for Latinidad, which is further complicated by the regional variations in Latinidad just within New Mexico. Unlike Miss America, the Royal Pageant is not attempting to prove ‘American’ belonging, but belonging to a different place: “New Mexico.”

Ultimately, the presence of Las Fiestas pushes us to deepen Banet-Weiser’s analysis, with particular attention paid to communities of color.

[1] Translations: “Que Viva La Reina” = Long Live the Queen. “Que Viva Nuevo Mexico” = Long Live New Mexico.

[2] To understand the colonial history behind the celebration, go to the following: Santa Fe Fiesta Inc. “Our History.” 2015.

To learn specific details about the Taos Fiestas, including structure of the court, past courts, etc.: http://fiestasdetaos.com/history

[3] Banet-Wiser, Sarah. “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity.” 1999.

[4] The Taos News. “The Fiesta Guide 2014.” July 2014.

[5] Dovalpage, Teresa. “An Insider’s Look at the Taos Royal Pageant.” 2014.

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