- 18 Dec 2011 02:15:57 GMT
- Art Materials
A Tribute to Haiti - The Magic Island
Without a doubt, Haiti plays a significant part in Miss Universe history, which kicked off in the States after World War II. On the evening of July 14, 1962, the Island of Haiti began to make a name for itself in the global telecast when the nation's contestant Evelyn Miot caused sensation to become the first black girl to make the semi-finals in the Miss Universe pageant -the world's most prestigious beauty contest-- at Miami Beach, FL. Though it was its first international meet, the Caribbean nation qualified for the second round.
In addition to being one of the 15 semi-finalists in the States, she was one of the most popular entries from beginning to end the event. During Miss Haiti Evelyn Miot's visit to America, she once explained to an interviewer why the Twist was popular on the Island: "Real Haitians prefer the Twist. It is a good dance and one can lose weight doing it".
Besides all that, Miss Haiti 1962 was also one of the first Caribbean delegates to compete in the second round. This achievement was matched six years later by Curacao's representative Anne Marie Braafheid.
During the decades that followed, many black representatives have had the opportunity to compete in the universal event, including five American delegates from 1990 until the late 2010s ( Carole Gist, Kenya Moore, Chelsi Smith, Shauntay Hinton and Crystle Stewart). By 1986, Brazil sent an Afro-Brazilian contestant to Miss Universe at Panama City. At the beginning of 2009, Chloe Mortaud became the second black woman to be elected Miss France in the 21st century. A decade ago, Lucbel Carolina Indriago Pinto, an Afro-Venezuelan girl, competed at the Miss Universe. In addition to MU, Halle Berry -now one of Hollywood's best-known celebrities- was 1st runner-up to 1986 Miss USA Universe.
Gerthie David, A Pioneer
After Haiti's qualification in the early 1960s, the country did not compete again until 1968. In July of that year, it got off to an inauspicious start in the first round when Claudie Paquin was eliminated by an international panel of judges. In the subsequent decade, it sent only two entries to MU.
By the mid-70s, Haiti returned to the global contest with promises to improve the Island's participation. During the 1975 Miss Universe in Central America, an event attended by El Salvador's then-Head of State Arturo Armando Molina, Miss Haiti, Gerthie David, advanced all the way to the final and then came in second place, behind only Finland's Anne Marie Pohtamo, becoming the second black woman to reach the finals since its inception in 1952. Since then, she wrote one of the finest stories in MU.
Following the end of the First UN Conference on Women in Mexico City in mid-1975, San Salvador, El Salvador, hosted the 24th Miss Universe. The competition kicked off with interesting stories. Of all the 71 entrants, only four were blacks: Bermuda (Donne Louise Wright), Haiti (David), Liberia (Aurelia Sancho) and the US Virgin Islands (Julia Florencia Wallace). While Miss Israel, a soldier-turned-beauty queen, gave lessons of "Disco music", Miss Haiti used her time in San Salvador to promote the Island, home to many superstitions and traditions. During a poll, Henry Kissinger was named as the "greatest person in the globe" by 22 entries, outpacing Gerald Ford (America's leader), Pope Paul VI, Indira Gandhi (India's Prime Minister) and Kurt Waldheim (UN Secretary General). Mr Kissinger, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, had won praise for backing the peace in Asia.
Since the onset of the international contest, USA, Bolivia, El Salvador and Colombia were the pre-pageant favorites to win the universal crown, at that time a competition historically dominated by the States and the Scandinavian countries. Of the twenty-three events held from 1952 to 1974, USA gained four awards -1954, 1956, 1960 and 1967.
At San Salvador, as many of her predecessors, America's Summer Bartholomew -who had received abundant mention in the Salvadoran media-- was one of the most respected entries, following winning the Miss Photogenic Award, together with Miss Colombia.
However, Haiti's David did not feel intimidated by "big names". In many ways, Miss Haiti Universe 1975 had captured the admiration of the international jury -made up of 11 world-famous persons-- as no other black delegate had in years. The live telecast, which was held at the National Gymnasium of San Salvador, had been notable for their international judges in comparison to other past events, which included Leon Uris and Sarah Vaughan -the only black judge in El Salvador-- as well as Olympic gold medal winner Jean Claude Killy. America's author Uris rose to fame in 1958 when he wrote "Exodus"; meanwhile Vaughan was referred to as "one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century" by Scott Yanow, an American jazz commentator.
Upon becoming one of the 12 semi-finalists, Miss David -the only black semi-finalist-- boasted one of the best interviews with Bob Baker, the legendary host of the universal telecast. It was the second time that the Island had qualified for the second round. In El Salvador, she spoken fluent English, the official language of MU. A time when a host of Latin American and Asian delegates did not speak English.
In the second round, she defeated such notable beauty queens as Carmen Elena Figueroa, the local delegate, as well as Miss Colombia and Miss England. It was a proud moment indeed when Miss Haiti 1975 survived the second round and then qualified for the finals. In the final, she lost to Finland's Anne Marie Pohtamo, Princess Grace Kelly's look-alike. So, she left the National Gymnasium to a roaring ovation.
David's impact in Miss Universe was immediate. She paved the way for the first black MU in history: On July 16, 1977, Trinidad-Tobago's Janelle Commissiong -daughter of a Venezuelan mother and a Trinidadian father-- was named MU by an international panel of judges, led by the Dominican-born American fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. Eighteen years later, Chelsi Smith, Miss United States 1995, matched Commissiong's achievement in Windhoek, Namibia's capital.
1975 -- A Golden Age
In 1975, too, the Caribbean nation - which boasts one of the lowest standards of living in the developing world-- also had a notable performance at Miss World in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, making it the world's most successful country in the international pageants in 1975, ahead of the United States, Venezuela, Finland and Puerto Rico. By any standard, it is a phenomenal achievement.
In the British telecast, in November of that year, Joelle Apollon's attempt to achieve win the universal title, but she finished sixth. She thus became one of the first black women to make the semi-finals since the event was initiated in 1951 in the UK. At London, Apollon was the first and only Haitian to take part in the prestigious contest. Nonetheless, the Island's Miss World performance tailed off in the next decades.
Despite its success in the mid-70s, nonetheless, Haiti declined to send a delegate to Miss Universe 1976 at Victoria City, Hong Kong (Far East). So, the Caribbean nation was the most notable absentee from MU. Apparently because of its poverty and political problems, it also could not compete in London, home to the Miss World Organization.
Rosalynn Carter and Miss Haiti
After Haiti's participation in Central America, Francois Elie was named Miss Haiti, becoming the fourth beauty queen on the Island since 1962. But that was not all. To mark the 25th anniversary of Miss Universe, the Caribbean republic sent Elie to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic -its only neighbor-- in July 1977; the country's last international participation throughout the 70s. In the telecast, however, the international judges dropped Elie from the semi-finals.
During her interview with the press, she said that "Rosalynn Carter, First Lady of the United States between 1977 and 1981, was the most important person of the world".
Upon losing in the Dominican Republic, the nation returned to competition in the late 1980s. On that occasion, however, Miss Haiti 1989, Glaphyra Jean-Louis, failed to qualify for the 38th Miss Universe in Cancun, one of the world's most stunning beaches. Haiti participated in MU until that time when the social problems forced the Island out of these events.
At different events the Haitians have shown their talents. By the late 70s and early 80s, there were a handful of success stories. During the 180th anniversary of Haiti's independence, Sofia Guilloid, who worked in the Haitian diplomatic service, gave the Island its first gift: she returned from Las Palmas, Canary Islands (Spain) with the 1984 Miss Maja International title, the first time a Haitian had triumphed there. A year ago, on December 5, 1983, Rachelle Scott, the host country's delegate, caught her Island's attention by finishing second at the 1983 Miss Maja at Port-au-Prince. The event was attended by the nation's then-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and his wife Michèlle Bennett, one of the world's most beautiful First Ladies in the 20th century. However Haiti, of course, has had other interesting credentials. During the 1978 Miss Ambar, which was held in Santo Domingo (DR), Faymi Hakime earned a chance to compete for the semi-finals. Previously, by 1977, Lominy Yole?e was second runner-up, behind Bolivia and Puerto Rico.
Over the following decades, in Atlantic City (NJ), Haitian-born Marjorie Vincent was crowned Miss America 1991 -which was set up in 1921- by her predecessor Debbye Turner (Missouri).
The Return of Miss Haiti
Following the earthquake, Haiti, backed by the United States and the International Community, continues its efforts to win a major image in the world. Under this atmosphere, the Island has a new Miss Haiti Universe for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
On May 16, 2010, against all odds, the Miss Haiti Universe Pageant -the most important beauty contest on the Island since 1983-- was held at Port-au-Prince, a city which had been devastated by one of the worst earthquakes in modern history. During that event, Sarodj Bertin Durocher, a 24-year old law student in the Dominican Republic, became one of Haiti's few elected beauty queens. According to press reports, the Caribbean republic plans to send a Bertin to Miss Universe 2010 after 21-year absence. In the meantime, she is training very hard to improve Gerthie David's achievement.
Miss Universe pageant would be a positive public image for the country. Upon winning the national award, Bertin said, "This is the best time to climb the world behind the suffering and poverty, we also have nice things like beauty".
Since January 2010, the Caribbean Island faces a truly formidable struggle. The modern nation of Haiti is suffering one of the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth. However the Island should not be defined solely as a country plagued by poverty, bloody coups, authoritarian regimes, AIDS and violence. In the last five decades, the focus has not been much on its culture, traditions, people and sports, but on its social problems. Since then, Haiti needs an opportunity to send a new face to the world. In fact, the first black republic of the world has also interesting stories.
Alejandro Guevara Onofre: Freelance writer. Alejandro is author of a host of articles/essays about over 220 countries and dependencies (and American States as well), from ecology, history, tourism and national heroes to Olympic sports, foreign relations, and wildlife. In addition, he has published some books on women's rights, among them "History of the Women in America" and "Famous Americans"
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