Utah and Texas are Winners at National Miss Latina Pageants

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Diana Franca of Salt Lake City was crowned Miss Latina US 2009 while Marissa Castro of El Paso took home the title of Miss Teen US Latina on the same stage in San Antonio, Texas recently. The 19-year-old Diana becomes the first woman of Brazilian heritage to win the national title in the history of this U.S. Pageant. She will now represent the USA in Latin America at the international finals with other Latinas from North, South and Central America, the Caribbean and Europe.

Thirty Latinas from across the US and ranging in age from 15 to 26 years competed for the chance of a lifetime to become Miss Latina US and Miss Teen US Latina at the annual national pageant held for the first time in Texas. Miss Latina US is the first national competition established in the country in 1983 exclusively for Latinas. It continues to be the only one whose winner advances to a world competition - the Miss Latin America® of the World pageant.

The pageant show opened with the eleven Teen contestants and Miss Teen US Latina 2007-08 Nicole Korrody performing a lively mambo choreographed by San Antonian Olga Valenciana, this year's pageant choreographer. Local talents Priscilla Garcia and Krystal Diaz provided the musical entertainment with beautiful song renditions and an exciting flamenco dance performance, respectively. Former Miss Latin America of the World Melissa Quesada, now a practicing attorney in New York, co-hosted the pageant alongside Gilbert Casillas of Azteca America.

Miss Utah Latina Diana Franca bested 18 other delegates to win the right to represent the Latino population in this country at the 2009 international finals held annually abroad. She will compete among delegates from countries in Central, North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. Diana was crowned by her predecessor Fatima Leonardo from Rhode Island at the Jo Long Theater for the Performing Arts in San Antonio.

Johanna Sambucinni (21) of New York and Dominican/Italian heritage was chosen First Runner-Up. The remaining finalists, in order, were Sasha Zacarias (19) of Rhode Island (Dominican), Valerie Velazquez (23) of Texas (Mexican/Italian) and Nancy Pelayo (26) of California (Mexican/Spaniard). Helen Araoz (26), representing her Bolivian heritage, received the "President's Award for Outstanding Achievement and Academic Excellence." Miss Tennessee Latina Mariela Flores (21) was awarded "Best Heritage Dress" for her Aztec Mexican design.

The title of "Miss Teen US Latina 2009" went to fifteen-year-old Miss Teen Texas Latina Marissa Castro, who received the crown from fellow Texan Nicole Korrody. This is the second time back-to-back state winners are chosen Miss Teen US Latina, the first time happening in 2005 when Michelle Gonzalez of Illinois crowned the delegate from her state, Geysha Gonzalez (not related).

First Runner Up honors went to Rosalia Alvarez (17), a Florida resident representing her Cuban heritage. California's Ashley Campuzano (16) was Second Runner-Up. Samantha Ortiz (16) also from Florida and representing her El Salvadoran heritage placed as Third Runner Up, with Daleska Jimenez (16) of Rhode Island completing the Top 5 with her Fourth Runner Up placing. Samantha Ortiz was also the recipient of the important "President's Award for Outstanding Achievement and Academic Excellence."

Brazilian-born Diana Franca has resided in Salt Lake City, Utah for over seven years and is currently a sophomore at the University of Utah majoring in International Relations. The 5' 8" beauty excels in both sports and academics, as noted by the following distinctions: Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Scholar; Academic All-State Volleyball; All American Academic Volleyball; High School Diploma of Merit; Sterling Scholar World Languages; Region and State 1st Place Volleyball. She is tri-lingual, fluently speaking English, Portuguese and Spanish.

The newest Miss Teen US Latina, Marissa Castro, is a 10th grader at Chapin High School in El Paso, Texas, where she is a Student Council member and a Class Liaison. She is fluent in English and Spanish and has earned a place in the National Junior Honor Society.

These latest Latina winners follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, who are all excellent role models with their academic achievements and other personal accomplishments, such as is the case with former Miss Latina US Melissa Quesada, a graduate of Hofstra University School of Law, who continues to distinguish herself in New York, like being named to the Board of the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade.

The bright and talented pageant delegates this year came from the states of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia, and represented the nationalities of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Puerto Rico residing in the United States of America. Judging consisted of individual personal interviews with a panel of 5 judges, swimsuit and evening gown competitions. Teen delegates were judged in fashion wear, in lieu of swimsuits.

Macy's became a pageant sponsor as "Official Retailer" for the first time and lavished all the contestants with gifts and the winners each with a grand prize. Gifts and prizes were also provided by Gayle Gaston Jewelry, which together with the awards presented by Organizacion Miss America Latina to Miss Latina US 2009 brings the total value of the winner's prize package to over $15,000.

All the pageant participants got to enjoy San Antonio hospitality as guests of several local restaurants that included La Marginal Puerto Rican Restaurant, Spaghetti Warehouse, Freddy's Frozen Custard and Panchito's at the Quarry, hosts of the pageant's After Party for a taste of authentic San Antonio Mexican cuisine.

Also contributing to the successful pageant production were Miamariu as Official Makeup Sponsor, The Unlimited as Official Hair Salon, Spring Garden Flower Shop as Official Florist, and Lenscap Studio as Official Photographer & Videographer. Others providing support to the national event in San Antonio were Amaezing Marketing & Special Events, Azteca America and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Miami-based Organizacion Miss America Latina Inc. produces the Miss Latina US and Miss Teen US Latina national pageants, as well as the Miss Latin America of the World international pageant. Over the years, the Miss Latina US Pageant has been hosted by various Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico. In 2006, the Miss Latina US pageant was brought back to the United States, when it was held in Massachusetts during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

About Organizacion Miss America Latina, Inc.: based in Miami, Florida, it is the oldest and largest producer of Latina pageants worldwide. Beginning in 1981, founding President Acirema Alayeto created an international pageant system where Latin American women from around the world annually compete for the title of MISS LATIN AMERICA®, best known worldwide as "MISS AMERICA LATINA." The company also produces the annual MISS LATINA US™ Pageant, official national preliminary to Miss Latin America, and beginning in 2003 the MISS TEEN US LATINA™ national pageant.

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