LORAIN — Mexican Mutual Society’s Little Princess Pageant is in full swing, with five girls vying for queen.
On Saturday, directors Anita Cruz and Vanessa Morales were running around the back room of Mexican Mutual Society setting up lights and a backdrop for the annual event’s photo shoot.
“This is my second year as the pageant director, but it’s a family tradition as far as my family being involved and ticket selling and stuff like that,” Cruz said, “because I do have three little cousins this year involved in the pageant. So it’s kind of hard for me to buy any tickets.”
Cruz was crowned queen in 1991. She and Morales have been friends since before Cruz’s winning year, meeting at the Alma de Mexico dance troupe roughly 30 years ago. Morales helped her niece as a contestant last year and agreed to assist Cruz with organizing it this year.
“For me it’s not so much a tradition for family, it’s more a cultural tradition, just being involved in the Mexican community, staying involved because there’s not too many Mexican things in Lorain County anymore,” Morales said.
Morales is a second-generation immigrant, her parents were born in Mexico. Her father moved to Lorain in the 1950s to work in the steel mill. While the family spent 14 years in San Antonio, they moved back to Lorain — where Morales considers home.
“You’re immersed in Mexico being there,” Morales said of San Antonio. “And then you come back here … I was like what can I do to just keep involved? And then (Cruz) asked me to come along this little journey with her.”
Mexican Mutual Society, which was founded in 1928, is one of the last cultural clubs left in the city. Cruz noted it has been sad to watch some of the other clubs dwindle, but seeing families come together around the Little Princess Pageant and Cinco de Mayo parade reminds her of what it was like “back in the day.”
“I just wanted to keep this alive and keep this going and I know that there are a lot of people who want to be involved and want to keep their traditions and their culture alive,” she said. “So I think that this is an important place to be able to do that. A lot of people don’t know (about Mexican Mutual Society), and since I have a pretty big network I feel like I have a lot to offer being involved here.”
The pageant is open to girls ages 5 to 9 who are Lorain County residents of Mexican descent. This year’s six contestants had to pick a costume from a state in Mexico and learn about that area’s history and culture. Morales hopes it helps the girls learn about where their ancestors may have come from, but also that it showcases different dresses, as last year a number of contestants chose the same one.
The Cinco de Mayo Queen is chosen not on her looks, but on the number of raffle tickets sold — and competition gets fierce, Cruz and Morales said.
“You have to be really devoted to selling those tickets, because in the beginning you have really high ticket sales and then you probably see a little plateau, so you have to be really (on it),” Morales said.
Cruz added, “I was impressed by how competitive they all were. And then parents come into it, or grandparents or whatever come into it going, ‘It’ll just be fun, they’ll learn about their culture, it’s a pageant,’ but then the competitive side really kicks in.”
This year’s contestants are Vera Soto, 6; Destiny McCall, 6; Jazlyn Traster, 7; Natalia Glinsey, 5; Isabella Reddick, 9; and Aubrey Reagan Cruz, 5.
Raffle tickets are $1 each with a drawing for first-, second- and third-place cash prizes at Mexican Mutual Society’s Cinco de Mayo fiesta, immediately following the parade.
This year’s parade is 4 p.m. May 4. Those interested in participating can call (440) 288-0144 or (440) 434-0392 to register.