By Karlha Velasquez Rivas
Neli Hernandez-Briceño, the winner of the Miss National Cover Girl pageant, demands from the organizers of the Quinceañeras Foundation the prize promised to her for being the winner of the beauty pageant for young girls in Las Vegas. The prize? A scholarship for some of the costs of her college education.
Hernandez-Briceño, now 21 years of age, said during an interview with this newspaper that she has talked to the Quinceañeras Foundation on different occasions so that she can receive the prize for a total of $3,000, offered as a scholarship. “I won first place (of the contest), and the contract we all signed states that one of the prizes is a $3,000 scholarship,” she said.
According to Hernandez-Briceño, the beauty pageant organizers claim that she can’t receive the prize because she didn’t claim it at the right time, and that right now they don’t have enough funds to cover such an amount.
The Miss National Cover Girl 2015 winner states that she did try to claim the prize at the right time, but that the National Director of the Quinceañeras Foundation explained to her parents that they couldn’t give her the check for $3,000 because the money was to be used only for college. The foundation’s director also said to Hernandez-Briceño’s parents that the money could be claimed when she decided to carry on with her studies.
And so Hernandez-Briceño decided to enroll in a summer class at the Metro Community College as the first step in her plan to study fashion design, so she contacted the organization on February to claim her prize since the enrollment fee was $1,000. She did not receive the prize or an answer. “I’ve been ignored many times. I sent them messages on social media, and I didn’t get an answer. This went on for months until in August when I told them that if I didn’t receive my prize, I would make it all public. They then said that the college had to send a letter to the foundation so that I could use the scholarship,” said Hernandez-Briceño.
After threatening to go public on the matter, the foundation contacted Hernandez-Briceño to make an agreement for the potential delivery of the prize in two parts, while also mentioning to her that she had no right to claim the prize she won years ago. According to the contract signed by the contestants with the organization, which El Perico had access to, under Section 23, it is stated that it’s the contestants’ responsibility to claim the prize that will be used exclusively for college studies and that if the prize is not claimed it be void. It does not, however, specify the timeframe for claiming said prize.
Hernández-Briceño mentioned that a winner of a prize won back in 2014 claimed her prize at the start of this year, and it was provided to her. “Then, why are they saying that I can’t claim my prize?” she asks. El Perico tried to communicate on several occasions with the Quinceañeras Foundation for a comment but didn’t receive an answer.
The cost of “the dream.”
An ancient Aztec and Mayan tradition established an age in which a girl took a step to become a woman, and once she turned 15 years of age, she could marry and procreate. With the arrival of the Spanish to the continent, this celebration was taken to the religious plane, but it retained the idea of presenting the young quinceañera before young males of different families, usually of wealthy families, so that one of them could marry her to further the families’ relationships.
That celebration is very different from what we see nowadays since today it’s a day of great excitement for young Latinas. Families invest a lot of money to make their “dream” come true, even if for only a few hours.
And since this is part of the culture, beauty organizations take advantage of it to create pageants in which girls between 15 and 16 years of age compete, with the contestants’ families investing a lot of money on this tradition.
The motto of the Quinceañeras Foundation is “Empowering Latinas of the future through Education,” and one of the purposes specified in the contracts is to help young girls of lower-income families that can’t afford to pay for their education.
To participate in the Miss Cover Girl de 2014 beauty pageant all girls, 13 in total, had to pay a $300 entry fee which covered four weeks of classes in which they learned about the catwalk, makeup, pronunciation, and public speaking, among other things.
“My experience was not a good one because the state director, Claudia Ceja, for the foundation, did not treat us properly. When you work with girls, you should be kind and patient,” said Hernandez-Briceño.
On top of the $300, contestants also had to invest in their wardrobe, makeup, and hairstyle for the different categories of the event. “For the state event, my parents invested around $13,000,” she said. We must mention that Hernandez-Briceño was not sponsored for any of her dresses. “My parents, who work at a butcher shop, made a big sacrifice for this. My mom and I went door to door at all stores seeking financial support, but no one wanted to hear about that foundation. I didn’t know about the reputation it had,” she emphasized.
For the national contest, participants must cover travel and hotel costs at the contest’s location, as well as the enrollment fee, which is $750. They also have to cover the costs of wardrobe and makeup for that event.
In the style of Little Miss Sunshine, Hernandez-Briceño’s family rented a van to travel to Las Vegas for the beauty pageant. According to the contract for the national vent, the foundation establishes the location at which the girls are to stay, and it provides each contestant with several tickets they must sell at $25 each. The foundation does not cover any of the travel and hotel costs of the contestants.
“They made me stay at an expensive hotel. My family and I stayed there for three nights. I participated in this event to win that scholarship, and that was what trapped me there,” said Hernandez-Briceño. On top of her fashion design studies, Hernandez-Briceño hopes to participate in other events as a model and eventually make it to the Mexicana Universal beauty pageant. “I’m not against beauty pageants, but I advise those that wish to enter quinceañera events to be careful about which organizations they register with. There is more variety nowadays in Nebraska,” she mentioned.