The Latin American Student Organization (LASO) brought together seven different cultures to battle for the crown for their first annual Corona Cultura Pageant in the Little Theater on Wednesday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Admission was $5 at the door to see the members of these cultural groups on campus recreate an actual pageant with a formal-wear section, a talent section and a question and answer section.
The crowing of Lauren Ruiz, who represented Philippine Americans Reaching Everyone (PARE) and her country of the Philippines, was the highlight of the night as the crowd roared with excitement for her victory— her friends from PARE especially, as emcee’s Aitana Ruilova Castro and Ana Rodriguez joked about their zest throughout the night.
The other contestants included runner-up Amy Kuply from the Indian Subcontinent Student Organization (ISSO) representing India, Jewel Bell from the Caribbean Student Association (CSA) representing Jamaica, Conor Crean from the Irish Society representing Ireland, Edison Henriquez from Lambda Upsilon Lambda (MGA, Latino Fraternity) representing the Dominican Republic, Todd Davidson from Haraya representing West Africa and Stephanie Loo from the Chinese Cultural Association (CCA) representing China.
The contestants were judged by LASO Secretary Adriana Gallardo, Multicultural Advisor Jennifer Duval, SGI President-elect Frank Obermeyer and Miss Teen New York winner Andreia Gibau.
The first portion of the pageant was the formal-wear section where contestants strutted their cultural outfits and told the audience about them.
Bell danced out in a Jamaican folk dress and Crean followed her up in a tweed coat with a newsboy cap, which he called a normal everyday look for the Irish. Kuply stunned the audience in her red lehenga choli, a traditional Indian dress worn to weddings and parties. Henriquez strolled out in a blazer which he called his “uncle look” with a straw hat that he said Dominican farmers typically wear.
Winner Ruiz wowed the crowd in her flowy and colorful festival wear, worn while celebrating the season of blooming flowers, typical of one of the Northern provinces in the Philippines. Davidson wore a dashiki, which he said became popular in the U.S. in the 60s, and Loo wore a long red qipao dress she said is worn at weddings.
Right before the talent section where the the competition began to heat up, audience members from the seven organizations were invited on stage for a dance battle where PARE won the hip hop round and Haraya won the bachata round.
The talent section showcased spoken word performances from Bell, Crean, Henriquez and Ruiz along with dance from Kuply, singing from Davidson and a bit of piano from Loo.
To ease into intermission, the emcee’s had a bit of fun getting the crowd to sing hits from “High School Musical” and other favorite artists. LASO then welcomed Jill Soco, the second place winner from Battle of the Voices, up to the stage for her rendition of “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel, leaving the audience in awe. This part of the program was for the audience to have some fun and feel welcome— LASO President-elect Esteban Acosta especially made some audience members feel at home as he walked around the aisles offering empanadas.
The last portion of the pageant consisted of questions and answers. Each contestant was asked two questions by Ruilova and Rodriguez, one general and one pertaining to their culture and their life. From women’s issues to cultural values, a broad range of questions were asked, allowing the contestants to either prove their knowledge or showcase their nerves.
After the end of the questions and answer section, the judges came together and after deliberation crowned Ruiz as the winner and Kuply as the runner-up.
The winner and second year chemistry major said to the Torch, “To me, it means a lot to win the first ever Corona Cultura because representing an entire body of culture can really put pressure on someone.”
“It makes me glad that all the hard efforts I put the few weeks I had before the pageant were not put to waste. Winning makes me feel that I really did justice in representing Filipino culture since my culture is so diverse. I think I can really say that I am proud to be Pinoy,” she said. “I also feel grateful for participating because I was also able to learn more of other people’s culture throughout this pageant.”
President of LASO, Maggie Hurtado, admitted that it was difficult to get the pageant going. “We had so many ideas to bring to life for this pageant, it took a lot of energy and dedication to make it come to life. Out of everything from decorations and games, our main goal was to highlight and embrace all the beautiful cultures we have here at St. John’s,” Hurtado said.
“At the end of it all, the amount of work and long hours spent was completely worth it. My favorite part was definitely working with all the contestants. I got to learn new things about the cultures represented like what African Dashiki represents as well as the struggles of an everyday Filipino,” she added. “The whole experience is unexplainable. Definitely one for the books.”
“It was amazing and rewarding to see something that started off as an idea come to life. My favorite part of the night was seeing the contestants in their cultural outfits because I feel like it was a really great way to just unify different cultures and teach the audience about them,” said LASO Vice President-elect Sieta Leon.
“I think the idea of getting the different cultural clubs on campus to participate was really nice. It was put together very nicely and I had a great time. I would definitely go again next year,” sophomore Journalism major Arianna Pintado said.