Jakiyah McKoy, 7, was crowned Little Miss Hispanic Delaware on August 31, but last week had been stripped of her title and crown because pageant officials could not prove her Latina heritage, according to reports from Latino Rebels and Buzzfeed.
According to El Tiempo Hispano, McKoy was born in Brooklyn, NY and her grandmother was born in La Vega, Dominican Republic. However, Latino Rebels spoke to Maria Perez, president of Nuestras Raíces Delaware (the pageant sponsor [hereafter NRD]). She said pageant regulations state participants need to be of 25 percent Latino heritage. “Her parents were asked to bring in documentation. Of all of the documentation brought in there was nothing that confirmed Dominican heritage,” Perez said.
Now, I’m no pageant fan; however, this story interests me for several reasons.
First off, how does one become “Latino/a enough” – and who makes that determination? In this pageant, entrants had to prove they were “at least 25% Latina;” the specific rule states:
Entrant must be of at least 25% Hispanic descent (parents or grandparents must be Hispanic)
It seems that NRD awards 25% for each Hispanic parent and/or grandparent an entrant has. It’s a simple metric – but also a dubious one; a child typically has two biological parents, each of which have two biological parents which would be the child’s grandparents (a pair from his/her mother’s side and a pair from the father’s side). This means that each parent “should” count for 25% and each grandparent “should” count for 12.5%. But this is a minor point; I illustrate it simply to show the (somewhat) arbitrary nature of this rule.
In Jakiyah’s case, the descent came from her grandmother – however, because said grandmother is undocumented (and deceased on top of that), NRD couldn’t prove Jakiyah’s “Dominican heritage.” Indeed, this is what NRD had to say about this mess (from their Facebook page):
FACT: Ms. McCoy losing her title was NOT due to her appearance in any way, but because [she] is NOT of Hispanic decent [sic] and couldn’t provide the proof to validate it as any contestant who is a title holder is required to provide. The color of the skin is not ever been a reason for this re-coronation. It has been left open to the grandmother that if she provides documentation to confirm Jakiyah’s Hispanic lineage, would be reinstated and we would have our first dual queens.
The family of Ms. McCoy had been asked to provide this after coronation and they were UNABLE to do so. They were very willing and understanding to the decision that was made, and in good faith the hard working Ms. McCoy was still welcomed to be crowned as a participant and join the festivities at the Parade and Festival. The family and Ms. McCoy accepted and had a great time on the float.
The current Little Miss Hispanic, Meriana Ayala, has blonde hair and very fair skin. She is also required to provide documentation to confirm her Hispanic lineage.
Going forward, like any organization, we will be asking for confirmation in advance from every and any participant, not just title holders, to avoid any confusion. We hope the community knows our interest and differentiate between the community opinion on the matter versus the fact.
(Emphasis mine; of course, had NRD done this to begin with, we probably wouldn’t have this controversy, nor would I be blogging about it.)
Anyhow, as you can probably gather from the articles linked above, the story – and NRD’s response – generated lots of controversy; folks in the comment threads, on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, claimed NRD stripped Jakiyah of her crown and title due to her skin color (she’s Black and indeed was the darkest-skinned of all entrants). Here’s an excerpt from one such story:
There was uproar when the winner was announced because, according to the public, she was not the best representative of a Latin beauty…according to a college friend of mine, who knows the family: [the pageant] required proof of only her ethnicity, not the other contestants.
If there’s truth to these claims, then the problem is twofold – namely, NRD’s sloppy handling of the matter and possible racist biases on the part of the attendees; what is “representative of a Latin beauty” anyway, especially given that we’re talking about a freakin’ CHILDREN’S pageant here?!
Heck, what exactly constitutes “Dominican heritage” – or “Hispanic descent,” for that matter?
For starters, the label “Hispanic” is immensely broad – applicable to twenty different nationalities! Moreover, Dominicans share part of their history with their neighbors, the Haitians – and have the highest rates of African admixture of the twenty Hispanic subgroups!
Hence, it is entirely possible for Jakiyah – and others like her – to be at least part Hispanic (dark skin notwithstanding), genetically speaking. Cases like this underscore the prevailing ignorance of Hispanic (bio)diversity – that is, the assumption that “Hispanic” is a catch-all category that carries with it a certain look, image, or even language (yes, language – not all Hispanics speak Spanish regularly, if at all!)
Long story short, we may look to familial background (e.g. where our parents, grandparents, etc. are from) to ascertain “Hispanic” lineage, but this information alone isn’t enough. Because of the underlying genetic (and cultural!) diversity which differentiates the twenty Hispanic subgroups, it’s essentially impossible to ascribe a “common” look, culture, and/or language to all Hispanics. Only by exploring these differences (and not using loaded terms or pejoratives to stifle such exploration) can we discover the true nature – and diversity – of the many groups we call “Hispanic.”