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At Miss Puerto Rico of Greater Hartford cultural pageant, young contestants showcase their heritage

For 13-year-old Michelle Sanchez, representing Puerto Rico in Connecticut means holding on to her culture.

“It’s important to know where I came from, or where my family originated from, especially that, since I go to Puerto Rico every summer,” she said.

Sanchez is one of seven girls of Puerto Rican descent participating this weekend in a cultural pageant. Hartford’s annual Puerto Rican Parade is in search of this year’s Miss Puerto Rico of Greater Hartford.

Each participant will represent their family’s local town on the island.

Sanchez will be representing her grandparents’ hometown of Comerio, Puerto Rico.

“I love to learn the history of my town,” she said. “And I think this pageant helps that.”

For weeks, she and other participants have been preparing cultural wardrobes, learning about their towns’ history and polishing up their “talentos tipicos,” or traditional talents.

2022 Miss Puerto Rico of Greater Hartford Cultural Pageant
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Jenna Aponte, 10, talks with pageant director Ellie Joya during runway practice at the last rehearsal for the 2022 Miss Puerto Rico of Greater Hartford Cultural Pageant at the Free Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

“It’s worth mentioning that this is not a beauty pageant, but rather a cultural one,” pageant director Ellie Joya said. “What we do is help the young girls to learn about their Puerto Rican culture.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the pageant has been interrupted. For decades, organizers have put together large-scale pageants to engage Puerto Rican youth. Now, with fewer COVID restrictions, these participants will show off their talents and knowledge onstage.

Sanchez has prepared an acting skit about Christmas in Puerto Rico for her talent showcase.

“When you look at me, it’s obvious that I’m a little ‘café con leche,’ so let’s just get the elephant out of the room,” she said. “I have found it so fun in my 13 long years of living to be both ‘dominicana and puertorriqueña’!”

Learn more

This weekend’s pageant is Saturday, June 11, at 11 a.m. at the Theater of the Performing Arts in Hartford.

Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Brenda covers the Latino/a, Latinx community with an emphasis on wealth-based disparities in health, education and criminal justice.