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This Puerto Rican Beauty Is The First Miss Alabama Beauty Pageant Contestant In 20 Years And It’s About Time

What comes to mind when you think of a “beauty queen”? If images of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Southern girls with money to blow come to mind, you wouldn’t be in the minority.

Kailee Grace Montes, the 22-year-old Latina of Puerto Rican descent competing in the Miss Alabama beauty pageant, is trying to change all that.

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In 2019, Montes was the first Latina in 20 years to compete in the Miss Alabama competition. Not only that, but Montes was one of only five of the 47 girls competing who identified as a minority.

According to Montes, she was initially attracted to the idea of participating in pageants for the same reason many Latinas pick up a side-hustle: to pay for college. And it worked! Montes racked up enough scholarship money to pay for two years of college after winning Miss Mobile Bay 2019. But the earnings weren’t the only thing that attracted Montes: “I also thought that pageants were a way I could give back to the community,” Montes said. Specifically, Montes was excited to bring a spotlight to the Boys and Girls Club of America, an after-school program for young adults. But being a Latina competing in a majority-white state meant that Montes had her work cut out for her.

The last–and only–Latina that has won the Miss America Pageant was Paraguay-born Sharlene Wells Hawkes in 1985.

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The prevalence of Latina participation in beauty pageants in other parts of the world makes it that more shocking that Latinas are so few and far between in US-based pageants. Although Montes was the first Latina contestant in the Alabama pageant in 20 years, beauty pageants are a common part of many young women’s lives in much of Latinidad. Countries like Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil have a rich history of beauty pageants, with over one-third of total Miss Universe winners coming from the region.

As for Montes, she’s admitted that being one of the only minorities in the Miss Alabama pageant was a challenging experience: “I feel like I’m one of the few who understands the plights minorities have to go through,” Montes said during an interview with NBC News during semifinals

Although Montes placed in the Top 12 in the Miss Alabama competition, she’s not giving up yet.

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She plans on continuing to enter pageants and has hopes of one-day attending law school. But, in the end, she hopes that her presence in the Miss Alabama pageant has been an example of what Latinas can accomplish, even with the odds stacked against them.

“As Latinas, we can make any change,” Montes said. “We can change the tone and the cultural temperature by stepping up, speaking out and working together”.

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