Thursday, January 26, 2006

Prepare to Peel


January 26,2006
Kaitlin Bell
The Monitor


Participants put finishing touches on preparations for Citrus Fiesta

MISSION — Things have been a little hectic lately for the organizers of the 69th Texas Citrus Fiesta.

OK, maybe more than a little.

"People don’t realize how much work goes into this. It takes a whole year to get it (together)," sighed Berta Peña, the fiesta’s executive director, as she fielded phone calls and inquiries from volunteers in her crowded Mission office Tuesday.

"But it’s worth it, OK? It’s once a year."

This evening, Peña and her team of organizers will start to see their long hours of labor come to fruition at two of the annual festival’s most beloved and time-honored events — the coronation of this year’s royal citrus court and crowning of the 70th Queen Citrianna. King Citrus will also be announced in the elaborate ceremony scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. in Mission High School’s Neuhaus gym.

As per tradition, the citrus king is usually a well-known member of the community, while Queen Citrianna and her royal court are chosen from a group of high-school age girls who compete, beauty-pageant style, for their titles.

At judging for the Queen Citrianna contest Tuesday night, some two dozen girls, each representing a Rio Grande Valley city and bearing a title of "Duchess," clustered in the Mission High School gym for interviews with judges, as well as a practice run-through for Thursday’s coronation ceremony.

Wearing dressy suits and heels, as well as ample make-up and meticulously coiffed hair-dos, the girls practiced curtseying and walking across the stage with their pages. The pages, who by contest rules must be seven-year-old boys, carried banners bearing the special town crests. An audience made up mostly of parents and siblings sat in the bleachers while Peña and other citrus fiesta organizers bustled about.

Despite the seemingly high-stakes nature of the night — the contest keeps competitors’ names secret until Thursday to avoid allegations of judges’ favoritism and has a certified public accountant tally the votes — contestants professed to be competing for other reasons than just victory.

"I guess I’m here to make new friends and to get out of a little town and broaden my horizons," said a Rio Grande City High School freshman representing Roma. The high schooler, who was forbidden by contest rules to give her name, confessed to being nervous as she waited for her interview with the judges.

Others were all smiles and relaxed good cheer.

"Win or lose, it’s a wonderful experience," said a La Joya Senior High School junior representing Sullivan City. The girl was waiting for her page outside the men’s bathroom.

Such poise, Peña said, is typical of today’s contestants.

"In my generation, you just sat there and you didn’t speak. It was ‘yes sir,’ or ‘no sir,’" she said of her days as a teenager in the 1970s. "They’re smarter, they’re wittier, they’re much more charming, much more mature."

The fiesta continues Friday with the product costume show, where contestants will model outfits covered with native plants and fruits. A parade through downtown Mission follows on Saturday.

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Kaitlin Bell covers Mission, Starr County and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4446.
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