MISSION — Seventeen-year-old Alexis Arce had over 200 bobby pins holding her hairdo up Thursday night.
Donning a shimmering, light-pink ball gown sewn with more than 40 yards of fabric, the Sharyland High School junior was one of the 23 duchesses vying for the 84th Queen Citrianna crown at the 83rd Texas Citrus Fiesta at Mission High School.
Kaylee Silva, Duchess of Royal Palms, took home the title and will begin her reign as queen after next year’s coronation. Jaedynn Alaniz began her term as the 83rd Queen Citrianna that evening.
Serving on Silva’s court will be Jenna Hardison as Princess of Grapefruit Blossom, Daisy Ramirez as Princess of Orange Blossom, and Sofia Rodriguez as Lady in Waiting.
Ted Prukop was crowned King Citrus 83rd, a title that was voted on by past kings.
The event celebrates the region’s burst in the citrus industry, led by John Shary, who planted and harvested the first commercial grapefruit crop in 1915 in Mission. The Texas Citrus Fiesta was founded by Paul Ord in 1932 to commemorate winter harvests.
After more than 80 years, the tradition abounds and the citrus is bountiful.
As attendees began to file inside the gymnasium, the atmosphere inside of the locker room was unlike the peaceful scene outside. Hairspray diffused in the air, skirts were being fluffed, corsets tightened.
Arce was squeezed inside of the shower room while her aunt, Diana Molina, helped her put on jewelry.
Arce’s dress had bedazzled slices of grapefruit scattered around its overskirt, featuring over 3,000 Swarovski crystals — each one stitched by hand over the course of 80 hours in two weeks. A large bow at the dress’ back was cinched with a bunch of sequin grapefruits.
The dress weighed around 100 pounds.
“It was a family affair,” Molina said, while she applied more hairspray on her niece’s already-crisp hair.
“She owes me a pint of blood, I poked myself so much trying to sew them (the crystals) on,” she added, smiling.
Karolina Hernandez, Duchess of Retama, said she would be happy for whoever won.
“Today is about having fun with the girls, and honestly whatever happens is in God’s hands,” the 16-year-old said. “I will be happy with whoever wins today. I am so close to all these girls that I will be just as happy for them if I were to win.”
Hernandez’s brilliant yellow gown had sheer lace that ran along her arms and gems replicating the small blooms of retama bushes sprinkled across the skirt. Each flower had a small cluster of red jewels at its center.
“This is just very important to me because my family has been supporting me through it all, and what I consider as family for me is the city of La Joya,” she said. “Everyone has supported me, my parents’ seamstress, my friends.”
Jewel Ybarra, who placed first alternate in the 2018 pageant as Duchess of Oleander when she was 18, said that making and maintaining friendships with the court is a major part of the reason for the event.
“It is about philanthropy, sisterhood, friendships that we will have forever,” Ybarra, now 20, said. “All the girls I sat with on parades and other community events, I still talk to them to this day.”
She added that one woman who was part of the 2018 court with her is expecting a daughter soon, and that she will be attending her baby shower.
“Since she is having a girl, we are all already thinking about putting her through the pageants,” Ybarra said, who is currently studying product development and law at the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio.
Though her term ended a couple years ago, she said that the responsibility of being on the royal court is unending.
Ybarra was seen offering advice to duchesses, showing them how to walk on stage and how to pose.
“Girls who go to Sharyland reach out to me because they saw my stuff on Instagram, and I talk to them about it and encourage them to join,” she said. “It’s much more than a pretty face and a pretty dress, it’s about having a pretty responsibility and knowing how to speak for the importance of the citrus industry, because that is what Texas is. It is about being a governor for it.
“When people ask about the pageant, I tell them ‘it is not your Miss South Texas, it’s your beauty and brains.’”
Avery Treviño, 6, Princess of Lime Blossom, had on a vivid green dress with gold lace that ran all over the bodice and skirt of the dress, and large bell sleeves that reached her wrists.
She said that limes are “sour and good,” and grinned shyly when saying that they go best with carnita tacos.