St. Thomas 𑁋 Something unprecedented happened during the 2019 Miss Universe United States Virgin Islands Pageant. Andrea Piecuch a non-native American from Virginia won the right to represent the United States Virgin Islands in the Miss Universe Pageant.
Andrea represented Hassel Island. This still, however, led to a territory-wide outrage. Statements such as, “She does not represent us, not our culture, not anything about the Virgin Islands” spread like wildfire. “It’s a slap in our face as Virgin Islanders,” said Monique Faulkner, a St. Thomas native, education program specialist for the U.S. Department of Education in Atlanta, and an activist for U.S. Virgin Islands causes.
Although the importance of pageants is on a decline internationally, the United States Virgin Islands is still known for having an intense amount of pride in their culture and their ability to represent this culture accurately on a grand stage. Some even saw this as a mockery of said culture, and another form of cultural appropriation. According to Ernice Gilbert of the Virgin Islands Consortium, one contestant even stated the Virgin Islands had its own president.
To put this all into context the USVI being a territory of the United States of America shares the presidency with the mainland. Arguments broke out following the pageant with some almost even coming to blows. It turns out the people of the Virgin Island’s fears may not have been completely unfounded.
Loca Lady Media founder, Markida Scotland broke it down like this:
– Lulu couldn’t/wouldn’t provide receipts to prove anything.
– The main competition believed her word because they expected the owners to do their due diligence.
– The contestant is from Virginia.
– Used the University of the Virgin Islands for proof but UVI said they don’t know them.
– Lulu quit.
– It happens in the states and the pageant says it’s not allowed but contestants do it anyway.
What some may not be aware of is that according to the Wall Street Journal Ms. Piecuch has a history of what they call “pageant hopping.” Pageant hopping is when a contestant travels from place to place competing in various states pageant competition. Andrea Piecuch competed in pageants including 2009 and 2012 Miss Texas USA.
In December 2017 she competed in Miss Florida, and in 2018 Miss Virginia. After losing in the Miss Utah competition in 2019 she then allegedly moved to the United States Virgin Islands to compete in the Miss Universe Virgin Islands 2019 pageant. A recent loosening of residency rules has led to a rise in pageant-hopping across America.
The U.S. Virgin Islands pageant according to the Wall Street Journal is an attractive target for these pageant hoppers. The contestants are small in number, and there is no preliminary competition in order to gain entry. The territory’s contest rules of having to live there for 6 months before the pageant may be getting exploited. A good indication of this is that 6 of the 10 2019 Miss Virgin Islands Contestants weren’t even from the Virgin Islands.
To make matters worse even Ms. Piecuch’s proof of residency is now being called into question. Lulu Orange Tyson who holds the franchise for The Miss Universe United States Virgin Islands was responsible for collecting proof of residency of the contestants.
Ms. Tyson who recently stepped down for “personal reasons”, failed to present said proof of residency to the Wall Street Journal at the time of the aforementioned article. Ms. Piecuch cited the University of the Virgin Islands as proof of residency but UVI has no record that any individuals with those names ever attended classes there. Although against Miss Universe Pageant rules this is not allowed, however, contestants do it anyway.
Tyson states that “Ms. Piecuch presented me with a lease that showed she was a resident since October of last year,” said Ms. Tyson. “She’s lived in the USVI for over a year.” However, could not at the time provide proof of the alleged copy. Does Andrea Piecuch embody Virgin Island’s culture and pride or could this be another newer form of cultural exploitation? You decide.