By: Kristin Hankerson
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — With the help of music of the islands blasting through the speakers and the live steel drum band, one could almost feel the warm, tropical climate of the Caribbean at Rutgers University. The West Indian Student Organization (more popularly known as WISO) hosted their 25th annual Mr. and Mrs. Caribbean Pageant 2015 on Sunday, November 15th 2015. Through their mission statement of “bridging the gap between the Caribbean culture and Rutgers community,” WISO and the pageant contestants aimed to educate the spectators on various cultures in the Caribbean, ranging from Jamaica and Haiti to Cuba and the Dominican Republic. In light of the adversity that has happened in the Caribbean throughout history, the contestants strived to show the beauty of their cultures.
This year, there were nine contestants; five men and four women, all aiming for the illustrious Mr. and Mrs. Caribbean title. On the men’s side, the was Quadree Washington, representing the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aswan Carbonell and Michael Rivero, both representing Cuba, and Steven Jean-Baptiste and Pitoeff Bathelus, both representing Haiti. As for the women, there was Thalia Contreras, representing the Dominican Republic, Melissa McIntosh, representing Jamaica, Rachelle Legrand, representing Haiti, and Saskieya Anderson, representing Guyana. Each person highlighted the uniqueness of their culture through various segments, such as swim and cultural wear, a talent portion, and an evening wear competition, accompanied by their nation’s flag. Additionally, there was a segment entitled the “I Am” speech, which gave the contestants the opportunity to describe themselves and educate the audience with history about their culture.
During the question and answer portion of the night, Legrand was asked where she would take someone in her country, Haiti, and why she would do so. Confidently, she stated that she “would take someone to Akaba Bay to see the beautiful sides of Haiti, not the parts damaged and impoverished during the earthquake.”
Amidst various major events that have taken place in the Caribbean in recent years, such as the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, the Dominican Republic-Haiti conflict, and adjusting to a recently opened Cuba, the WISO e-board and its contestants noticed various changes to the people of their countries. Through this pageant, filled with vibrant music, cultural food, authentic cultural clothing, and vibe of the Caribbean, WISO wanted the contestants to continue to feel pride for their respective countries.
Jevaun Grant and Kelsie Thorne, Treasurer and Public Relations officers of WISO, respectively, shed some light about the changes they’ve seen throughout the pageant preparation.
“This year, we wanted to change things up and force the contestants to learn about their culture in a fun and interactive way. We told them to talk to family members. We wanted it to be more fun than homework,” Grant expressed.
Thorne added that “the WISO e-board wanted to make the pageant seem less like a competition this year, by stressing the importance of camaraderie amongst the contestants.” The pageant aimed to only heighten the sense of pride that the contestants have for their country. Having won the pageant, himself, in 2013, Grant stated that “the pageant is a great way to express my culture. I even got a tattoo of my country to show how much pride I have in Trinidad.”
Ultimately, after the judges finished deliberating the tremendous talent that was placed before them, Carbonell, Mr. Cuba, and Legrand, Mrs. Haiti were crowned Mr. and Mrs. Caribbean 2015. The crowd roared as both winners were crowned. Both winners expressed their gratitude for WISO, the audience, the other contestants, and especially, their country for giving them a sense of identity and pride. Presenting their culture to the audience was one of the most rewarding experiences for both Carbonell and Legrand. “As for presenting my culture to everyone, I love being able to “Cuban-ize” the masses. I love my culture and my country very much so any chance I get to represent them I make sure that I do my best,” stated Carbonell.
“Singing the song “Here’s Where I Stand” allowed me show that even though Haiti has gone through things, we are still a nation that will continue to stand strong and grow,” added Legrand.
There have been clear changes in the pageant from past to present, and the WISO e-board only hopes to improve in the coming years. Carbonell expressed how impressed he was with the poise and dedication that the e-board and his fellow contestants showed throughout the pageant preparation and the main event. Additionally, he hopes that people who wish to try out for the pageant go through with it.
“PLEASE do not ever think you are not capable of achieving whatever you have set in your mind. I was so nervous for this pageant because I wanted to perform as well as I possibly could and was practicing the whole time off stage, but the day came, the moment passed and I look back at it now like “That really was not as bad as I thought it would be”. So please do not ever feel discourage and just keep pushing!”
If you would like to learn more about the Caribbean culture or its pageant, the West Indian Student Organization meets on Mondays at 9PM in the Paul Robeson Center.
Photography courtesy of Tundé Adeyina