Every immigrant has a travel story to tell.
Roxana (Roxy) Serrano recounts a journey that began when she was just seven-years-old and crowded onto the deck of a small fishing boat with 25 other Cuban nationals.
“We were 10 miles off the coast of Mexico, with this huge Mexican Marine gunship hovering over our boat– its machine guns ready to explode the outboard motors,” Roxy remembers. “They thought we were drug dealers and they were going to kill us all. Then one of the passengers picks me up and holds me in front of the motors and my mother is screaming because she thought I was going to be killed.”
When they realized the boat was smuggling human cargo instead of drugs, the Mexican police arrested the passengers and shipped them to detention center in Mexico City where they spent 6 months behind bars before being flown back to Havana.
“Our family in the U.S. had spent $20,000 trying to get me and my mother out of Cuba,” Roxy said. “But when we were returned to Cuba, the authorities there confiscated everything we owned, even our clothes. My mother made a total of 14 different attempts to get us out of Cuba and into the U.S.”
Finally, five years later, paperwork filed on their behalf by a relative in the U.S. was approved and Roxy and her mother were allowed to immigrate to Savannah where Roxy’s aunt lived.
When she entered the 9th grade at Groves High School, Roxy spoke no English. “I was so lost, I couldn’t even say hello,” she remembers.
Those memories will always remain, but today, Roxy’s future looks much brighter.
Last month, she won a prestigious beauty pageant in Atlanta, Georgia where she was named Miss International Grand Latina 2018.
This annual competition is open to both male and female contestants and awards prizes and crowns to winners in categories from ages 4 to 50. Contestants must be of Latino heritage and compete in the preliminary rounds as representative of the countries and regions (estados) their families immigrated from.
In addition to offering valuable connections for contestants interested in pursuing careers in the beauty and fashion industries, the pageant also offers participants a chance to win some serious scholarship money.
As part of her prize package, Serrano won a $48,000 scholarship to attend Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. Wesleyan is a private, liberal arts, women's college founded in 1836.
Serrano started her modeling career just one year ago but has already found success with local photographers as well as national beauty products retailers like DE Luxury Lashes.
“It was just something I thought I would try and I was very fortunate that the judges liked me,” Serrano. “I made some very good friends at the pageant and got to ride in Atlanta's Christmas parade. I'm very excited about the scholarship money and the opportunity it gives me for college.”
Along with beauty, organizers of the Miss International Grand Latina pageant stress character and service to community. One of Serrano's responsibilities as the pageant winner is to participate in a variety of community service projects. She has done some volunteer work at Compassion Christian Church and is looking for other community projects to participate in.
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