As she glided down the royal red carpet sprawled across the floor of Tallahassee’s American Legion Hall, Alelee Figueroa took her time displaying her pageant-ready walk as she received her crown Saturday as 2019 Miss Tallahassee.
“Coming into the academic year I wanted to get more in touch with my culture,” Figueroa, a student at Florida A&M, said. “Because even though I do go to an HBCU, I feel like I was very exposed to African-American culture and that I was separated from my own.”
The coronation, hosted by the Big Bend Filipino American Association, gathered Tallahassee’s Filipino community in a celebratory send-off for their selected representatives for this year’s Fiesta Mo Sa Florida’s Pageant for a Cause, an annual event in which Filipino-American communities across the state participate in support of Bantay Bala (Child Watch) 163 – a social welfare program which aims to protect at-risk children in the Philippines.
“The Philippines is very underrepresented in the United States,” said Jovel Figueroa, Alelee’s sister. “(Alelee) is the perfect (representative) because she knows our culture very well.”
As a minority HBCU student, Figueroa felt her culture had become a neglected afterthought with rare opportunities for Filipino connections to be made outside of her hometown of Orlando, leaving her to go out and search for her own.
“I didn’t even know (about the Tallahassee Filipino community) for the first two years I’ve been at FAMU,” Figueroa said. “The fact that I actually did more research and got to asking more people about it, I’m glad that I did because if I didn’t then I would have probably assumed that there weren’t a lot of Filipinos here.”
As an active MS3 cadet with the FAMU-ARMY Rattler Battalion, captain of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University’s women’s’ track and field team, the 69th Miss Army ROTC and a member of the FAMU honors student association, Figueroa thought the time would never come when she could fully embrace the beauty within her culture.
“I just find time, you will always find time for something that you want,” she said.
“I’m a proud Filipino, just because I admire a culture doesn’t mean I wish I wasn’t my own, which is why this year I wanted to touch more on my culture because I don’t want to know more about another culture when I don’t know more about mine.”
The Fiesta Mo Sa Florida pageant will be held in July in Kissimmee, where Figueroa will be competing to win the title of Miss Earth-Florida and receive the chance to represent the state in the Miss Earth-Philippines pageant.
She said she would not change any part of her path, including enrolling at FAMU, that has led her to where she stands today, excited for the future.
“Being a student at a HBCU makes you more culturally aware and more open-minded and accepting of different cultures,” Figueroa said. “So that really helped me harness my own culture.”
As she prepares for the upcoming competition, she reflects on the importance of embracing diverse and different cultures regardless of the environment.
“It’s a responsibility (maintaining a culture) because who else is going to live up and hold up the culture if it’s not you? If you don’t preserve your culture and if you don’t remember where you came from then your culture just fades away … and that’s a scary thought.”