McAllen native finishes first runner-up at Miss USA 2019

When Miss New Mexico USA 2019 was asked what issue all presidential candidates should address, the McAllen native who finished first runner-up at Miss USA 2019 didn’t shy away from controversy.

“Being from a border state and being born and raised in a border city, immigration is something that is very important to me,” Alejandra Gonzalez, 26, said during her top-five answer at the Miss USA pageant earlier this month. “This is not a black and white issue (and) … we need to have discussions and continue to listen to each other.

“I think there are so many people out there wanting the American Dream, and my parents immigrated here from Monterrey, México and I am their representation of their American Dream.”

Gonzalez said she was thrown off by the crowd’s response and was proud to see the reaction on social media.

“It’s really wonderful, and I see the power in that,” she said of people relating to her story and her voice. “I’m very honored to represent our community like that.”

The pageant veteran competed in Miss Texas USA seven times, finishing as a non-finalist, finalist, fourth runner-up, third runner-up, second runner-up and first runner-up.

While preparing for previous contests, Gonzalez admits she’d taken advice to stay away from polarizing topics, like her immigration answer, which resonated with so many.

Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, she recalled a time when she didn’t claim her bilingualism because she didn’t appreciate that part of herself. Competing in Miss USA pageants at the age of 20, she talks about transitioning into adulthood through pageantry, shedding her shortcomings over time.

“I feel like it’s a very fragile age where you’re still trying to find out who you are, what you want to do in life, what you believe in and what you stand for,” she said.

Her improvement is based less on practicing for categories such as swimsuit, evening gown and interview, and more of a reflection of life experiences that have changed her perspective, she said. Those include escaping a toxic relationship at 21 that allowed her to learn her worth, earning her bachelor’s and master’s in accounting, and working on money laundering or Medicaid fraud cases, for example.

“Those experiences, I feel, have molded me over the years, but it’s a growing path — a timeline of pure growth,” she said, speaking positively about coming up short at Miss Texas USA. “Of course no one likes to lose, but I’m happy that I had to lose all those times to finally be where I’m at.

“This is such a subjective area of competition where you could literally do everything perfect and still might not be someone’s cup of tea.”

Gonzalez said she stopped seeing the pageants as competitions against other women but as opportunities to be her best self — to hold herself to a goal she set.

She said she was the most calm she’s ever been during competition at Miss USA 2019, despite it being nationally televised. She attributes this Jedi-like composure to her own personal growth.

“We mostly work on their confidence,” said Debi Chavez, the woman Gonzalez credits for getting her into pageantry, “because once you build their confidence, everything else falls into place.”

Gonzalez remembers meeting Chavez in a Dillard’s dressing room at the mall when she was trying on dresses.

Chavez immediately saw potential because “she was tall, beautiful and the way she carried herself,” she recalled. “I’ve told her since the day I met her that she has the Miss Universe look.”

Gonzalez isn’t sad about losing, she said, though she gets the question a lot. Instead, she focuses on putting the Valley on the map for something positive, and taking the chance to highlight the hard work of her parents and other immigrants.

“When I was able to fully accept myself and be proud of who I was — where I’m going and where I come from — that’s what truly won it for me,”she said, instead of answering what she thought judges wanted to hear. “Whenever I threw all of that out the window, it just changed everything for me.”

So when Gonzalez spoke of her parents’ native city, she said she didn’t think about whether she would “say it with a Spanish (or) English accent.”

“I just said it,” she said. “I think that proved to me how comfortable (I am) with who I was, where I come from and my roots.

“But I was so confident in the answer I gave for my top-five question that there was some kind of peace.”

Chavez was present for the Miss USA pageant in Reno, Nevada, and she gushed about the fans’ affection for Gonzalez and her answers — how they waited for her to greet them after the show and how she was appreciative of their time.

“To me, that’s priceless because not everybody is like that at that level,” she said of Gonzalez’ approachable presence. “It took years in the making, but she always had it.

“We just had to finetune it.”

Chavez repeated a sentiment she’d heard — that it’s more likely your child would make it in the NFL than on the stage of Miss USA.

“To be first runner-up in the Super Bowl of pageants, Miss USA …, it’s a one-in-a-million shot,” she said.

Gonzalez said young women who are interested in competing in pageants shouldn’t be discouraged if they’re not where they want to be yet, as long as they’re working at becoming better versions of themselves.

“You have to be comfortable with yourself,” she said.