ASU sophomore Ashley Diaz strives not just to be a model but a role model.
She participated in this year's Miss Arizona Latina pageant – a way for her to showcase her Latina culture.
It began when the pageant contacted her via Instagram and told her she had been nominated to participate.
"This wasn’t something I've done before, but definitely something I've always aspired to do. (I) just didn't know where to start," Diaz said. "I think I was very nervous going into it, but by the time I was there and you meet the girls, you're like, 'Wow, this is actually a really good experience.'"
The pageant places a heavy emphasis on culture, including a specific cultural round for the young women, during which all the participants are able to share their specific cultures and what they mean to them.
Diaz, nominated to represent the City of Maricopa in the 2023 Miss Arizona Latina pageant, displayed her heritage from El Salvador.
"Both of my parents were born in El Salvador," Diaz said. "So I'm first generation born here with my parents, and my grandparents actually still live over there … So I tend to visit a lot."
The dress Diaz wore for the round was shipped to her from El Salvador, enhancing the presentation of her culture on the stage. With the dress, she carried a basket full of fruits, which was a nod to her grandparents, Daiz said. Her grandparents have mango trees and other crops in El Salvador, which they grow to sustain their livelihood.
The pageant presented Diaz with an opportunity to show her unique family culture and also to better herself and advocate for causes important to her, like working hard and bettering each generation.
"I’m the first on my dad's side to go to college," Diaz said. "My mom ended up going to college here and just finished her master’s a couple of years ago. I'm working hard towards a goal of not only bettering myself but my family."
Diaz is doing this by pursuing a degree in criminology and criminal justice and is a member of Barrett, The Honors College. Diaz said she aspires to be an FBI agent in the behavioral unit to help those who are disadvantaged or lack the resources to help themselves. She wants to better the lives of other families as well and create equal opportunities for immigrants.
"That's a big thing, being able to create resources for them, not only because it's hard to get into schools now (with) tuition, but also, what can we do to help find work or food, that's a big part of it as well?" Diaz said.
According to the pageant director, Esmeralda Salazar, the Miss Arizona Latina pageant aims to shape young women into leaders.
The pageant runs under the mission "more than just a model: a role model," something Diaz has embodied.
"They're not just looking for someone that wants to be the queen, but also someone who is able to make that impact," Salazar said. "I know with Ashley, she's going to school and has been a part of numerous groups. So it's someone who does get involved with her community and is able to inspire the youth."
The pageant also creates a community of Latina women who lift each other up.
Another participant in this year's pageant, Lesly Rosas, said, "You meet a lot of other women that believe in you, want to help you, give you tips and boost your self-confidence."
Rosas met Diaz at one of the first pageant workshops, one where the girls asked each other questions and practiced their walks. Rosas got to drive Diaz home, and the two connected, Rosas said.
Rosas noticed unique elements to Diaz that made her a great candidate.
"She isn't afraid of speaking Spanish in public, and that's a great quality," Rosas said. "The fact that she was brave enough ... She stood out a lot, and she was very proud."
The pageant continues to empower young women and promote Latino culture.
"When we do live in a diverse world, making ourselves stand out in a positive way, we can be role models, not only to Latinos, but to other girls," Diaz said. "I feel like it’s a really big part of it."
Edited by Grey Gartin, Walker Smith and Grace Copperthite.