Wanted: Senorita M?s Fina

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

The first time someone suggested El Diario La Prensa should hold beauty contests and crown reinas (queens) for its floats in New York City’s many ethnic Hispanic parades, Publisher and CEO Rossana Rosado was appalled.

“I said, ‘Oh, absolutely not.’ I hate that whole concept,” she recalls. But the more she thought about it, the more she warmed to the idea. For one thing, the beauty queen remains a cultural phenomenon among Latin Americans, with the women representing pride and accomplishment as well as beauty.

So in 2004, El Diario became the only big-city newspaper in America to sponsor its own beauty queens. This summer, the Spanish-language paper chose a “Reina de El Diario” to represent communities from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and, this month, all of Hispanidad.

The winners aren’t just one-dimensional knockouts, Rosado says. Last year’s queen for Puerto Rico passed the bar exam three weeks after appearing in the Puerto Rican Day parade. This year’s winner is an expert Nissan mechanic, Rosado says, “in addition to being drop-dead gorgeous.”

Last year’s Colombian queen turned out to be a promotional bonanza for the newspaper. Lina Maria Villarejo Uma?a’s mother was a newspaper hawker who sold El Diario in Queens ? a story that was picked up by the popular Univision morning TV show Despierta America.

El Diario sponsored beauty queens throughout the 1950s and 1960s, a period in New York City when a brewer sponsored a Miss Rheingold contest and the MTA crowned a Miss Subway. The revival is driving newspaper sales and creating reader excitement, Rosado says: “Even the staff is into it ? everyone wants the best reina.”

El Diario also has a more politically correct program for celebrating women. Each March for the last 10 years it has honored mostly unsung Latinas at a women’s luncheon. This year’s guest speaker was U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton.

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