Celebrating Women as Ideal

women in white gowns walk the runway

Miss America Competition - Atlantic City, United States

Click here to listen to Paola talk about this festival

This is an excerpt from the book Celebrating Women.

Teresa Francisca Benitez, Miss Nevada

“The first papers I signed as an adult, three weeks after my eighteenth birthday, were to file with the IRS for 501c3 status for the nonprofit I co-founded, The Nevada Empowered Women’s Project. We advocate for families that need resources and help. And we bring to policy makers, the voices of the true poverty experts---the women who live in poverty, take the bus to drop off their three kids at childcare and go to a job that won’t even cover the cost of the childcare. I was President of the Project for four and a half years.

“I’ll be heading off to the University of Michigan to get my masters in social work, then I hope to become a Senator and write public policy on social welfare issues like Medicaid, food stamps, healthcare education. I have done internships with the Nevada state legislature and lobbied on Capitol Hill four times. I can’t wait to set the agenda.

“My father was from Guadalajara and came to this country at 16. Mother is Caucasian from Washington DC. Although she married a man who was wonderful, handsome and charming, he developed a problem with alcohol. Because of domestic

violence, my mother had to make a decision to take me and both my sisters and leave when I was four years old. My father is not part of my life.“

"I am the first woman (and the second person) in my family to get a degree. My mom thought the idea was great, but she said, ‘College costs money, honey.’ Here’s my mom slinging hash in casinos and restaurants around Reno to make ends meet. When we couldn’t make them meet, my sisters and I lived with my maternal grandparents. My boss at Junior Achievement told me about Miss America. When I walked in, I wondered why everyone looked scared. Then they began talking about being Miss Sparks, Miss Nevada, Miss America, and I thought ‘Whoa, wait a minute!’

“The Miss America Organization has funded my entire undergraduate degree; I now have about $15,000 to apply toward graduate school. Whether I walk away with the crown or not, mission accomplished.” 

Teresa stunned the judges and audience with her dramatic monologue from The Laramie Project, a two minute excerpt from Matthew Shepherd’s father’s testimony during the trial of the men who killed his gay son in 1998. She was named third runner up to Miss America, and won $44,000 in scholarships during the competition in Atlantic City.

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