La Reina Negra: Neoliberal Citizenship in the 2001 Election of the First Black Miss Colombia

DIANA SIERRA BECERRA, U-M Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies




Three decades after the resurgence of indigenous and black social movements, and ten years after the 1991 Constitution recognized Colombia’s ethnic diversity, the elite National Beauty Pageant crowned Vanessa Mendoza the first black beauty queen in the pageant’s sixty-five year history. Popularly known as the “Black Barbie,” Mendoza won the 2001 crown as the representative of the Chocó, one of the most impoverished departments in which neoliberal policies have devastated the living conditions of its majority-black residents. Blackness in Colombia has historically been equated with laziness, ugliness, sexual vulgarity, and economic backwardness – the antithesis of the national ideal. In this context, by celebrating black beauty, black peoples demanded national inclusion. The Chocó had offered the nation one of its regional “resources,” black beauty, and in exchange called upon the nation to reciprocate via racial affirmation and economic assistance to the Chocó. However, in a country where a beauty queen is crowned every two days, participants left unchallenged the neoliberal terms on which historically-excluded subjects claim Colombian citizenship: the exchange of women’s bodies for limited access to national belonging and resources.