Wanda Tima-Gilles, president of L’Union Suite, the popular Haitian-American social platform, and two other organizers initially had planned a simpler welcome for Miss Haiti, Raquel Pelissier.
But on Thursday night, scores of Haitians, including celebrity DJ Michael Brun, turned up at the invitation-only event to honor Pelissier, who was named runner-up behind Miss France Iris Mittenaere in the Miss Universe pageant.
A stop in Miami’s Little Haiti was only fitting for Pelissier before her return to Haiti. She touched many local Haitians with her words about overcoming failure, but there’s more to Pelissier than that:
As she mentioned during the final question portion of the competition, Pelissier is a survivor of the 2010 earthquake.
But she gives more meaning to the saying “not just a pretty face” as a master’s optometry student at a university in Madrid.
“Her position represents a lot for young women who look up to her and see her as a role model,” said Mia Lopez, a Miami publicist who organized the event with two other Haitian-American friends. “She was determined to somehow bring Haiti to the forefront.”
While many contestants prepare their entire lives for a pageant like Miss Universe, Pelissier only began her bid in August when she won her first beauty competition. She credits her success to “determination and knowing who you are and what you have.”
Lacking sponsorship and government support other contestants enjoyed, Pelissier launched an aggressive social media campaign.
“I got so much more than I was expecting,” Pelissier said. “For my country, I wanted to make it at least to the top 13 and I made it to final two, so I feel so blessed to have made it.”
Pelissier was well aware of the hopes that rested on her. “I wanted to do this for my country,” she said. “They’ve been waiting a long time.”
Still, some believe that Pelissier, 25, was short-changed when she wasn’t crowned, speculating that Haiti’s tumultuous political landscape had kept the crown out of her reach. Pelissier doesn’t believe that, recalling that in 2011, Miss Angola — Leila Lopes — was crowned Miss Universe despite her nation’s problems.