Ana Calles doesn’t mind driving two hours to Wilmington every week this summer. Hailing from Selbyville, she’s the only downstate contestant in the Miss Hispanic Delaware pageant.
“Honestly, it’s a big honor, and I feel very fortunate and blessed,” said Calles, 17. “I see how I’m the only one from lower Delaware. I don’t see that as an inconvenience to go all the way up there. I see it was an opportunity or a blessing. I think it’s special because it makes me stand out.”
She will represent Mexico in the Aug. 26 program, which celebrates Hispanic culture and is also designed to help young ladies develop poise and communication skills.
As a rising junior at Indian River High School, Calles said she has wanted to join the pageant for several years now. Calles has lived in Selbyville all her life, except for a few years in Mexico when she was younger.
She has the drive to compete, even hiring Uber rides to Wilmington, until teacher Lori Hudson put an end to that. Then, Hudson personally drove Calles to rehearsals and helped her with program sponsorships.
“She helps me with my schooling and everything. She’s really awesome, to be honest,” Calles said of Hudson. “She definitely goes out of her way, and she’s really there for me — almost in a way a mother would.”
The pageant began in 1972 and is celebrated with the Wilmington Hispanic Festival.
At weekly rehearsals, Calles and the other dozen girls practice their introduction speeches, communication skills, poise/gown walk and the group introduction dance. She also had to find local sponsorships for the program book, which she said can be nerve-wracking but is ultimately her mission to complete.
Although she admitted she is nervous for her first pageant, she said she’s proud to step outside her comfort zone and try something new. Throughout the process, she said, she’s become more comfortable with public speaking.
The girls have to think on their feet during the evening-gown portion of the pageant, answering an interview question, speaking with confidence and walking with poise.
Her evening gown will be red, which represents “my culture and my country. It will represent the blood of the Mexican heroes who died in the Mexican War of Independence,” Calles said.
After a few years of piano lessons, Calles is also ready to play John Legend’s “All of Me” for the talent competition. She’ll also have a scored interview beforehand.
“I’m pretty nervous — very excited at the same time. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” and she’s been working hard. “I feel like it’s a good opportunity for young girls to work on their communication skills and get involved in their community.”
Although Delaware is only 100 miles long, there are divides between “north and south.” Calles said she wants to bring people together.
“I want to be able to contact Hispanics and make relationships, and bring the community together … break that barrier between Sussex County and upstate,” she said. “I feel like I’m accomplishing that, in a way, because I’m building relationships … and we’re building friendships. … It’s nice to see the little girls practice and learn and grow.”
A maximum of 12 girls is invited to participate in the pageant each year, Calles said. Although a bigger field of contestants might be more thrilling, the smaller group gets to know each other better. The older teens also get to be role models for contestants in the pageant’s Little Miss (ages 7 to 10) and Junior Miss (11 to 14) competitions.
“She is setting an example for other Hispanic young ladies, to let them know there are opportunities available for them,” Hudson said proudly.
Calles has volunteered for several years at the Selbyville Public Library and recently also helped organized the National Hispanic Heritage Month events there, which includes children’s crafts, a bilingual storytime and an immigration forum with La Esperanza. The month-long celebration kicks off with a party Friday, Sept. 15, at 4 p.m.
And volunteerism is Calles’ platform for the pageant. It may seem broad, but it’s the only way to encompass everything she cares about.
“I feel like it is a very broad platform, but … there are many things I am passionate about. Being able to help people with many different causes [is empowering],” she said. “I read that that … it makes people feel happier. It just makes you feel like you have accomplished something.”
That’s a special feeling, despite a person’s own hardships, she said. And Calles has felt that struggle in the past year.
Her mother passed away in April, knowing about Calles’ dream to compete but not getting to see the August pageant.
“Yes, it is [hard], but my mom lives within me, and I know this is all part of God’s plan,” Calles said.
But her father will be in the audience Saturday night at the Baby Grand theater in Wilmington’s Grand Opera House.
Along with volunteering, Calles said she also enjoys art and will join the Yearbook Club this year at IRHS.
“A big thanks to all of my sponsors and everybody who sponsored me throughout this journey and, of course, Miss Lori Hudson, who does a lot for me,” Calles said. “And, of course, to the Lord, who I owe everything to. And my mom — this is for her.”