Gurney's Inn
November 15, 2006

Here She Is: Miss Latina Hamptons 2006!

The scene at Southampton High School Saturday night was something straight from the pages of a Hollywood premiere or a high-end photo shoot. Limousines lined sleepy hamlet streets and pulsating music propelled visitors down the long, blue carpet toward the bright lights, big city feel of the event unfolding inside.

Pride was palpable in the air as crowds of elegantly dressed well-wishers and family members packed the lobby of the school, cheering loudly and waving colorful posters of their favorites to win the second annual Miss Latina Hamptons competition.

For 13 Latin American lovelies, ranging in age from 16 to 21, Saturday night's event was the pinnacle of long months of hard work and training.

According to Alex Jiminez, who organized the pageant with his wife, Juliana Holguin — also the director of the event — the competition was a project developed under the auspices of Impacto Latino Media, which airs a local cable television show every Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 18 on the East End, and through which entrants learned of the contest.

The competition was made possible through the sponsorship of a long list of local businesses and donations, as well as the efforts of Claudia Ramirez, Hector Ramirez and German Munoz. It is reflective of a Latin American culture that takes great pride in such pageantry. Back at home in Latin American countries, said Jiminez, young girls grow up with big dreams of one day claiming the coveted crown in any number of competitions. "There's a Miss Coffee, a Miss Emeralds — it's a real way to get the community together," he said. "These pageants are huge in South America."

And community spirit was definitely soaring on Saturday, when locals from East Hampton. Southampton, Springs, Westhampton, Bridgehampton, Hampton Bays, North Haven and Southold turned out to support their own, screaming and clapping for each contestant as she entered the auditorium and took the stage.

The high school auditorium, adorned with vibrant bouquets of lush red and orange roses, looked less like an educational facility than a professional production set as crews manned lights and cameras, recording the event for viewers at home.

After an opening dance featuring all the contestants, each young woman was introduced in a videotaped presentation, after which the judges, luminaries including actors and directors from HBO, Telemundo, and Univision, were introduced.

Next came a fantasy runway sequence, with contestants strutting the stage in all their costumed glory, followed by a soulful performance by musical guest 2XSS.

After the bathing suit portion of the competition, an enthusiastic audience welcomed Latino singing sensation Carolina La O.

Finally, after a court dress segment, election of five finalists, and questions to those finalists, the moment everyone had been waiting for came: The crowning of the new Miss Latina Hamptons 2006, 21-year-old Hampton Bays resident Andrea Gonzalez.

For Gonzalez, who is employed as a baby-sitter, it was a moment she would never forget. "It was amazing. I was a little bit in shock, but I was really happy," she said. "I was so thankful to all the people."

Gonzalez and her fellow contestants spent many hours together, working with Brazilian model Gabriella Paina, who taught them the tricks of the trade, as well as with a choreographer, who instructed them in the art of dance. "We did a lot of hard work," she said.

For last year's winner, 16-year-old Ana Elizondo, also of Hampton Bays, the experience was life-altering. New opportunities, such as print modeling in New York, opened up after her win, she said. To her successor, she advised, "Take the crown very proudly, because it's a great experience."

As queen of the event, Gonzalez went home with over $10,000 in prizes, including a laptop, an iPod, a cell phone, a trip to Disney World, a one-year membership to the Radu gym in Southampton, modeling and acting classes at PMTS Models & Talent International, Inc., a year membership to a hair salon, and her own website.

Second place winner Katherine Molina of East Quogue also received modeling and acting lessons, a membership to SporTime, and a computer.

Coming in third place was Shelisa Firia of East Hampton.

Although the girls were showered with prizes and glory, Jiminez said the competition offered contestants an even greater reward. "It gave them something more important — these are local girls who've had the chance to be in a high-end event with recognized artists. You get to see the transformation of these girls — it's like an extreme makeover." He added: "I've had parents say, 'I never thought my daughter was going to look this beautiful.'"

As for Gonzalez, she has goals for the year ahead. "I want to work hard. I hope I can do a lot of things for my people — the Latin people."

And that, said Jiminez, is the goal not only of the event, but of Impacto Latino Media. "We build bridges in the community," he said.

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