This past summer, little Black Latinas, like so many young girls have done before them, sat in front of their family television sets to watch the pageant circuits taking place across the United States. Only this time, the young girls watching witnessed history when a contestant, who looked and came from a background just like them, took home a major title. Gabriela Taveras, a contestant of Dominican, Haitian and Chinese descent took home the crown for Miss Massachusetts becoming the first Black women to win the title for the state.
Taveras became the first black woman to win the Miss Massachusetts title earlier this year.
View this post on Instagram
Can we just talk about this @teranicouture from @shopbellasera for a second?! I wanted to make sure I looked as great as possible for the Miss Mass Outstanding Teen pageant and this dress definitely made sure of that! Thank you @shopbellasera for always making sure I look like a dime 👑 let's not forget my beautiful earrings from @dredesignsbling 😍#MissBoston #shopbellasera
In July, Taveras won the crown for the Miss Massachusetts pageant. This past Sunday she went onto compete in the 2019 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, NJ where she turned heads when she opted to introduce herself to judges and the audience watching while speaking in a Spanish accent. Taveras finished the competition as a fourth runner-up losing the ultimate title to Miss New York’s Nia Imani Franklin, also a Black pageant titleholder.
Recalling her experience as an Afro-Latina in the competition, Taveras highlighted the barriers and discrimination she faced as a Latina in the pageant. “For the competition, people didn’t want me to say my name with a Spanish accent in fear that it could weigh me down or make people feel uncomfortable,” she explained in an interview. “Unfortunately, we live in a society where if you are embracing your culture, people feel as though you’re not proud to be an American.”
Speaking about the hurdles Latinas must jump to secure a space for themselves in competitions, Taveras underlined the fact that today’s pageants might be willing to be exclusive to some extent but they fail to actively recruit minority contestants. “Traditionally, Miss America was exclusive to white women, and it wasn’t until 1971 when women of color [started] competing,” she explained before explaining that while the rule that limited the competition to women of the white race only was changed in the 40s it “didn’t necessarily mean that they were putting the local competitions in the areas that minorities existed.” For her first competitions, Taveras traveled 26 miles outside of her Latinx neighborhood of Lawrence, Massachusetts. When it came time to compete in other competitions she had to travel even farther.
Even despite Taveras’ loss on Sunday, it’s clear she’s come out a true winner and queen.
View this post on Instagram
Me: I'm about to cry @riveramakelawrencebetter : ME TOO! It was such an honor to be given the key to the city of #Lawrence, a place that I have always called home because of my commitment to #Service and #Empowering others. To my surprise I was also acknowledged by the @ushouseofrepresentatives ! 😭🙏🏾 As if becoming #MissMassachusetts wasn't enough. I'm so fortunate to have the backing of an amazing state that commits itself to leading the way ❤️ Thank you God because I literally wouldn't be here without you and thank you to my State and Local Board Members, family, friends and future friends (strangers) who came to support me! #MissAmericaMA #MissAmerica #ThereSheServes #FEAR
In interviews about her success, Taveras has often referred to herself as the Comeback Queen citing her life struggles battling sexual assault, homelessness, and abandonment. “Throughout my entire life I’d call myself the Comeback Queen because I faced so many adversities whether it be sexual assault or growing up with foster children [in] a single parent household, [having] an incarcerated father,” Taveras said in an interview about the long road that got her to becoming the first Black Miss Massachusetts. As a student at a Catholic high school, Taveras recieved an education on partial scholarship and worked as a custodian after classes to make ends meet. She’d hustle from class to wrestling practice and then to her job. On most nights, she’d only just begin to open her books for homework at 11:30 p.m. “I did it because I needed to pay for school.”
There’s no doubting Taveras has come a long way from her roots in Lawrence to a tiara-wearing pageant contestant.