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Beauty pageants may not be traditionally associated with cultural awareness and equality, but that’s exactly what UCF’s African Student Organization aims to promote this Friday with the Mr. & Miss Africa pageant.

The organization’s first-ever pageant will feature a standard introduction, interviews, a talent performance, evening wear, sashes and even tiaras. But, in line with the event’s ultimate purpose, it will also feature one additional section.

“We’re having a category called traditional wear, which is basically where a contestant will dress in the clothing they usually wear for that country or the style of that country,” said Amanda Nyuma, event coordinator and vice president of ASO. “It’ll basically show the audience the different sides of Africa.”

The organization’s goal for this pageant is not only to celebrate the different cultures of Africa, but also the African individuals of ASO and UCF.

“I think [this pageant] is a way for us to establish ourselves in the UCF campus and give our members a way to highlight their different cultures,” said Ntami Echeng, president of ASO and a sophomore biomedical sciences major.

Echeng said that African students and their cultures often get diffused, and the event will be an outlet for those individuals to fully represent where they are from.

Africa, which has 54 countries, is sometimes thought of not as a continent, but as a conglomerate, said Myriam Noua, a senior interdisciplinary studies major.

“I remember when I came to the U.S. for the first time, I realized that most Americans have little knowledge about Africa,” she said. “Some think that Africa is just a country. I got questions like ‘In your country, do you sleep with monkeys?’ or ‘Do elephants come inside your house?’ or ‘Do you even have Facebook in your country?’”

Noua, who came to the U.S. in 2011, said she was motivated to participate in the pageant after an incident last month during which she said someone didn’t believe she was from Africa because she didn’t “look African.”

“When [people] look at Africans, they look at this big, wide nose, with huge, red lips and extremely dark and so poor. And I’m like, ‘Excuse me, that’s not Africa, that’s what you have in your mind, but Africa is so different,’” she said. “That made me feel so bad and so sad and when I was thinking about all that, I’m like, it has to change.”

The event aims to show what African cultures are really about. Contestants can win prizes and become ambassadors for UCF’s ASO. The pageant’s decor was funded by SGA, but all the prizes will be provided from personal funds of ASO members.

Contestants will be judged on their mastery of unique skills, poise, confidence, personality and most of all, their inner beauty.

“If you’re [at the pageant] to vote or to support someone based on the physical aspect, then you lost,” Noua said. “Physical beauty will not do anything when it comes to Africa. We are here to represent the culture,” Noua said. “The culture is not what you look [like] outside, it’s what you look [like] inside of you.”

Nyuma said that everyone has a different style, so contestants are being judged on who they are and how they represent their specific culture.

“[For the contestants], we really tried to not be harsh because this isn’t a real pageant,” she said. “It’s more to celebrate different cultures, inform people of the different cultures and just bring a positive light to Africa and ASO.”

For Noua, the pageant goes beyond cultural representation. It’s a stepping stone to her dream.

“My dream tomorrow is to go back to Africa and create a major channel or something like that, and go in every single country and show the beauty of the culture, the beauty of our languages, the beauty of our food, the beauty of our dances — of everything,” she said. “I believe that when UCF students see the different events that ASO is organizing, they will see that [Africa] is not what they think or believe.”

When: Friday at 5 p.m.

Where: College of Sciences, room 101

For further information on ASO, please contact africanstudents@gmail.com or @aso_ucf.

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Alissa Smith is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.

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