FARMINGTON - Skylany Rodriguez was crowned Little Miss Puerto Rico of New Britain for 2017 Sunday.
The 9-year-old New Britain resident, daughter of Norma Colon and Angel Rodriguez, was the oldest of four girls in the pageant, held at the Hartford Marriott Farmington.
The girls spent the last two months preparing for their debut in front of family and friends along with a panel of judges from the Connecticut Institute of Community Development, Puerto Rican Parade Chapter.
The 2016 Little Miss Puerto Rico of New Britain, Natalia Peluso, graciously passed the crown to Skylany on Sunday, but not before she offered all the girls some wise advice.
“It’s not about wearing a pretty dress,” Peluso said. “It’s about learning about your culture and helping your community.”
Her mother, Julissa Rivera, said she was very proud of her daughter, who helped coach this year’s group.
“She helped them with their walk, their dance and their attitude,” Rivera said.
Winning the crown has sparked Natalia’s curiosity about her heritage, her mother pointed out. “She’s constantly asking questions about it and we’re looking up the history. She’s learning a lot about her culture.”
The Puerto Rican Social & Cultural Club of New Britain organized the pageant in 1988 as a way for young girls to learn more about their Puerto Rican culture. Assistant Pageant Director Nancy Sanabria was one of the first participants.
Past Little Misses have gone on to win Miss Puerto Rico of Connecticut titles.
“This is a good start for them,” Club President and Pageant Director Mirna Cuevas pointed out. “Girls that didn’t even speak Spanish before are learning the language and a lot about the culture, which is really important.”
Each competitor represented a different Puerto Rican town in their presentations, which included a traditional group dance in native dress.
As the representative of Aibonito, Skylany wore flowers.
First runner-up Keylian Davila, 8, carried sugar cane in honor of Yabucoa, the town she represented.
Melanie Rodriguez, 8, represented Bayamon and Daryelis Sierra, 8, Caguas.
The group dance the girls performed is known as La Bomba. It originated on sugar plantations with enslaved Puerto Rican women, who hid from their captors at night and danced to release pent-up emotions.
Edwin Velez hosted the program. An actor, musician and radio host, Velez even performed a traditional Puerto Rican song for the crowd.
The judging panel provided the girls with questions about the island. Each chose one to answer.
Skylany chose to discuss her favorite Puerto Rican foods.
“Tostones and chuleta,” she said. “Thank you.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.