On March 7, sophomore Kassandra Gaona was crowned Miss Hispanic/ Latino OSU 2020. Oklahoma State University hosts the annual scholarship pageant which provides a platform for Hispanic and Latino students to advocate for issues that affect their community. Gaona’s platform is foster care awareness. The O’Colly had the opportunity to talk with Gaona about her platform and her experience in the pageant.
Why did you decide to join the Miss Hispanic OSU pageant?
I wanted a way to get back in touch with my roots. I had strayed from my roots due to being ashamed of who I was. I didn’t want to be Mexican. My parents were mistreated because they were Mexican, and I didn’t want that to happen to me so I strayed as far away from that as possible. I didn’t really get back into until the beginning of last year when I came to college; I had some friends who helped me out and they were like, “Hey, you’re awesome.” And I was like, “You know what? I love my culture. I love who I am. This pageant’s perfect, I have to do it, be a representative of my culture and help other people who are in the same situation that I was.”
What are some ways the pageant helped you get back in touch with your roots?
I’m definitely more aware of what is going on in the Hispanic community now. I’ve also just connected with more Hispanic people here on campus because if it weren’t for (the pageant), I wouldn’t have joined (the Hispanic Student Association). To be in the pageant you have to be in HSA, so I joined them, and they’re all really great. They’re great people, and everybody’s always helping everyone, and I love that.
Can you talk to me about your platform?
My platform is raising awareness for the mental health issues caused by the foster care system. I chose that because my friend was in foster care, and I didn’t know how bad it was until last year when I took a course. I found out how awful it was, all the mental health issues that are caused because they’re taken away from their family, their home. Even though they’re mistreated, that’s the only thing they know so they’re attached to (they’re families), they love them. And I was like, “Hey, friend. Is it really that bad?” and she was like, “Oh, yeah. They treat you like absolute trash,” so I was like, “This is a problem, and we need to bring it to light.”
How do you hope to use your title to raise awareness for foster care children?
So, I plan to use my title to be able to host a couple of workshops that will be held in both Spanish and English, and they will be open to the Hispanic community here in Stillwater, not just at OSU. Also, to just any person who wants to come. I want to inform them of one, the importance of mental health and two, teach them that, “Hey, look at what foster care’s doing. We need to do something to change this or at least to help the kids out.”
My biggest project, the one I’m most excited about, is I’m planning a volunteer group. I’m going to partner with Together We Rise, which is a nonprofit organization that helps children in foster care. What they do, is they have a program in which they help children get rid of trash bags because when children are in the foster care system, they are given two trash bags to drag their stuff from place to place, which is absolutely awful. So, what they do is they have duffle bags, and they fill them with teddy bears, hygiene items and other care items. Then, we get to take them to foster children here in our local area, so for us that would be Payne County. I also want to host like a clothing drive to get like the stuffed animals and backpacks and other stuff. The more stuff we can give (the foster kids) the better because they need all the help we can get.
What was the most fun part of the pageant?
Definitely getting close with everybody. We have a bond now from hanging out with each other so much and working with each other. We got to see each other grow into more confident and better people as the pageant went on. When we first started, we were all shy and nervous, and we were like, “Yeah, we can do this.” But at the same time, we were really reserved, and now we’re really, really great friends. Honestly, I love that.
How would you characterize your experience overall with the pageant?
It was a great experience. I would definitely do it again if I could. It not only taught me to be more confident and better at public speaking, but also just working with people and taking criticism and not taking it personally and growing as a person.
Gaona said the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected her plans for her platform because programming doesn’t start until the fall semester. She will mostly be planning events over the summer. She said if the coronavirus situation continues, she will revise her plans as needed.