photos-Miss USA 2007 Rachel Smith, Miss Jamaica 2007 Zahra Redwood, Miss Tanzania 2007 Flaviana Matata, Miss Universe 1977 Janelle Commissiong, Miss Universe 1999 Mpule Kwelagobe
The 56th Miss Universe Pageant currently taking place in Mexico City will have some interesting stories transpiring during the live broadcasts Monday night on NBC and Telemundo.
Miss USA Rachel Smith is attempting to become not only the first Miss USA to win it since Hawaiian Brook Mahealani Lee did it in 1997, she's also attempting to become the first African-American winner of this pageant. Miss Jamaica Zahra Redwood will not only have her hair dreadlocked but is the first Rastafarian to represent Jamaica as a contestant. Miss Tanzania Flaviana Matata is competing with a shaved head.
They aren't the only women of African descent particpating in this year's pageant. Angola, Nigeria and Zambia sent delegates along with Tanzania. The US Virgin Islands has a delegate along with the Caribbean island nations of the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Aruba, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Lucia. The South American nation of Guyana is also among the 75 nations that sent delegates this year.
While they aren't the only women of color competing in this year's pageant, they all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Trinidad and Tobago's Janelle Commissiong in terms of getting the definition of beauty expanded beyond a Eurocentric model. On July 16, 1977 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Commissiong broke through to became the first woman of African heritage to win the Miss Universe title. Ironically Trinidad and Tobago doesn't have a delegate in the Miss Universe pageant for the first time in sixteen years. Miss Trinidad and Tobago 2006 Kenisha Thom lobbied businesses and the government in an unsucessful attempt to get the financial support needed to send a delegate to this year's pageant.
Women of African descent have been a competitive fixture in the Miss Universe and other pageants all over the globe. Since Janelle's groundbreaking win in the Dominican Republic, other women of African descent have won Miss Universe such as biracial Miss USA Chelsi Smith in 1995, Trinidad's Wendy Fitzwilliam in 1998 and Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana in 1999.
Latinas have also done well in the Miss Universe pageant with several queens coming from Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Panama, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Spain and Mexico. In fact, the next most successful nations/territories in the Miss Universe Pageant after the United States are Puerto Rico (5 titles) and Venezuela (4 titles) and a fierce rivalry has developed between them. Asian winners have come from Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, Israel, Lebanon and India. The winners from the African continent have come from South Africa and Namibia along with Botswana.
During this decade Latinas have dominated, winning consecutive titles in 2001, 2002, 2003 and last year's title. The 2002 winner, Justine Pasek moved up after Oksana Fedorova was dethroned. The current Miss Universe 2006, Zulekya Rivera from Puerto Rico will be crowning her successor.
Rachel will have some stiff competition, but she's got pageant history on her side. Since the pageant started in 1952 a Miss USA has failed to make the semifinals only three times (1976, 1999 and 2002). The 1957 Miss USA was disqualified because she was married. Miss USA delegates have won the pageant seven times, had eight first runners-up, six second runners-up, one third runner-up, three fourth runners-up, six finalists, and seventeen semi-finalists. Our Canadian neighbors have had two Miss Universe winners in 1982 and 2005.
I'll definitely be tuned in Monday night to see if Rachel Smith can make history. While I'll always cheer for Miss USA (and this year will be no different) I also root for the contestants from the Caribbean or Africa and women of color from around the world.
It's also more fun watching the Miss Universe pageant than reruns.