LU junior crowned Miss Mexican Heritage Queen

When Cami Gonzales was crowned Miss Mexican Heritage Queen by the Mexican Heritage Society of Port Arthur on Sept. 10, she was ecstatic.

“I honestly did not think I would win, especially since it was my first time doing it and the other girls had much more experience than me in this specific pageant. Also, I was not too worried about winning because I had already felt like I gained a lot from the experience, and I had the best time dancing in the state dress, making new friends and getting the chance to represent my culture in front of my family,” Gonzales said. “It was a special moment that they believed in me to be a good representative of my culture. I just felt so honored.”

The Lamar University junior accounting major from Nederland, Texas, has come a long way since her first dance pageant at the age of 7 when she donned a neon orange dress her mother picked out for her. Despite being a nervous wreck — running off stage and forgetting her dance — she was named first runner-up. Gonzales has been performing ever since. Cami Gonzales

“I loved it because it was an extension of a dance competition in my mind. You go on stage and perform the best you can. Getting older I felt even more confident since interview was involved and I was able to show my personality more,” she said. “I think over the years, it's just a process of, ‘Okay, what can I do even better this time?’ It has always been a learning experience for each pageant, which is why I never get tired of them. There is always something new to learn and someone new to meet.”

This pageant, however, has been the most impactful in her experience as a contestant, she said.

“I was nervous to compete because Spanish is not my first language, so I almost felt like an outsider or that I was pretending to be someone that I'm not. My dad and his parents are who I get my Hispanic culture from and with it being one of the last year's I could compete, I really wanted to do it so that I could make them proud, win or not,” Gonzales said. “They have always wanted to me to give it a shot and just mainly have fun learning more about who I am and where my Hispanic culture is rooted from. I am so glad that I did it, I made new friends, and everyone was so nice. I was able to learn about the history of Mexico, as well as my chosen state, Chiapas. Being able to be chosen as the winner was just the cherry on top.”

As Miss Mexican Heritage Queen, Gonzales said she learned so much about her own heritage — something that may never have happened without the opportunity.

“I think the most impactful experience I had with the pageant was preparing for my interview. I learned so much about my culture’s history and traditions that I do not think I would have ever learned had I not participated in the pageant,” she said. “Also, during practices and the actual pageant, all the girls were extremely helpful and supportive of one another. Everyone always gave me advice on any question I had and helped me be the most prepared I could. I will always love that because there was no scary competitive energy. It was just girls who wanted to represent their culture coming together to do just that.”

Gonzales’s title comes at an important time in her culture — Hispanic Heritage Month, held from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, a month-long celebration filled with pride.

“To me, it's a month of remembrance, tradition, and being appreciative of the sacrifices my great grandparents have made in order for me to be here today living a life full of acceptance and opportunities. It is a celebration of who I am. It is a way to celebrate all of the cultural richness and diversity in our community,” Gonzales said. “I believe it is important (to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month) because it allows us to recognize the Hispanic community's achievements and contributions to our national story. We are able to take this month to remember those who have fought for our independence and that it is a blessing to Hispanic. It is a way to bond the people of our culture and remember the importance of Mexican Independence Day.”

While she’s already been crowned Miss Mexican Heritage Queen, Gonzales said that she’s far from ready to take her final bow.

“Formally, (queens) will attend parades and events frequently in order to represent our titles and be a part of the community. Culturally, it's all about being a good representative of your community,” the queen noted. “I had the privilege to be crowned, and it's now my responsibility to treat it and my culture with respect, always. It's important to always be there for your community as a queen and to always give it 100% effort whenever you are in the public eye, wearing the sash and crown of your community.”

As queen, her mission is to get out and engage with the community as much as she can.

“When you think about it, a year really is not that long, so I definitely want to take every opportunity that I can with this title in hopes of not just doing good for the year, but doing good that will benefit the organization for years to come,” Gonzales said. “I want to leave a good mark on the community and represent them well. I want to be able to impact the community in a positive way so that looking back, everyone will be proud that I was chosen as queen.”