Jessica Loera, a member of the Great Bend High School Class of 2015, never saw herself as the kind of person who would compete in a pageant. Like many others, she had preconceived ideas based on an outsider’s viewpoint. But, when a friend challenged her to push beyond her limits, she accepted, and it has made all the difference. In February, the Fort Hays State University student was talking with her friend, Fatima Contreras, also a student at FHSU. Contreras had been picked to represent Hays in the Miss Kansas Latina pageant.
“Fatima talked to me about the organization and encouraged me to apply to become Miss Wichita Latina,” Loera said. “At first, I thought I couldn’t do something like that. It was out of my comfort zone. But, as we talked, I came around, and decided it would be good for me to do something outside my comfort zone.”
Loera applied and was called for an interview. Since Wichita did not have a pageant, she was chosen off the merits of her interview. Along with the title came the responsibility of choosing a platform (character development for boys and girls), attending events as Miss Wichita Latina, and raising money to fund her campaign for Miss Kansas Latina. The timeline was tight and the pressure was on.
And then, the pandemic hit, and the statewide shutdown was imposed. The pageant, typically held in late spring, was postponed until September. This provided the time she needed to do additional fundraising. Each contestant is required to raise funds to pay for photos, fees and lodging during her pageant run.
Clothing is another important part of the pageant, and Loera had to put together several outfits, including an interview outfit, a heritage or fantasy outfit, a bathing suit, a ball gown, and a black cocktail dress for the show. Wichita’s AzTeka Boutique helped out, donating her heritage outfit, a traditional Aztec warrior regalia made in Mexico. They also helped her practice poise and catwalk preparation for the show.
For weeks ahead of the pageant, Loera turned to another friend, Kacee Kasselman, who was posting fitness videos and meal tips to her Facebook page, inspiring her to stay fit and connected with others during the stay at home order. Staying motivated and engaged wasn’t easy, but she found opportunities to promote her platform, she reached her fundraising goal, and she learned how to use Facebook live to create her own fundraising video. As a newbie to the pageant world, participating for the first time during a pandemic meant facing unique challenges alongside the more experienced contestants. It was a great learning and growth experience for her.
Finally, the weekend of the pageant arrived, Sept. 10-13. She headed to Kansas City, Mo., for a whirlwind event that at times had her feeling exhausted, but never bored. She wasn’t used to the pageant lifestyle, she said, with the long hours, appearance demands, photo and video shoots, outfit changes, makeup and hair, interviews, pep talks, dinners and rehearsals. Add to that the added requirement to do it all while observing social distancing and wearing masks.
“It was a stereotype-busting occasion,” she said. “The directors, coaches and other girls were so empowering and so supportive. It felt great to be surrounded by so many independent and strong women. I found a strength in me I didn’t know I had.”
Completed her degree
During the months of preparation for the big event, Loera also completed the requirements to receive her bachelor’s degree from FHSU and graduated in May. She is the youngest of seven and the first in her family to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
“I feel so blessed to be supported by my family through all of this,” she said.
After graduating from GBHS in 2015, she attended Barton Community College. It was during her third year there, preparing for transfer and still undecided about what she wanted to do for a career, when she stumbled upon the field of speech pathology. The more she learned, the more she realized it was perfect for her.
“I was trying to decide between being a teacher and being a nurse,” she said. “It’s a great mix between the two.”
Now, the recent graduate feels doubly fortunate because she has landed a position at Lakewood Middle School in Salina as a speech language technician. Her new goal is to apply to a graduate program in a few years and earn a masters degree in speech pathology.
She’s still Miss Wichita Latina for now, and she hopes to increase her involvement in the Wichita community now that restrictions are lifting. AzTeka Boutique is working on sponsoring and organizing a local pageant, and if they are successful, she looks forward to crowning Miss Wichita Latina 2021.