Kenia Martinez (1988– )

Kenia Martinez: Miss Honduras, 2010
Image Ownership: Public Domain
“Image Ownership: Public Domain”

Twenty-two-year-old Kenia Martinez was crowned Miss Universe Honduras on July 8, 2010. She went on to compete in the Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, in August of the same year. Kenia was the second black woman to win the title in Honduras. Ms. Martinez is originally from Tela, a town on the Honduran Caribbean coast, and she proudly claims to be Garifuna. The Garifuna are descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak people. (The latter two are indigenous peoples of various Caribbean islands). In 1797 the English deported some Garifuna from St. Vincent to the island of Roatan off the Honduran coast. From there, they were moved to Trujillo, and then they migrated to Tela in 1808 where they founded their own community.

Today the Garifuna live primarily in Central America, and communities can be found in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras. They speak the Garifuna language. There is also a diaspora of Garifuna, especially in Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; and New York. At the time of the Miss Universe Pageant, Kenia lived in New York. Kenia Martinez then represents both a new type of national and public acceptance of Afro-Latinas in Central America and an acceptance of diasporic Hondurans. Some academics argue that Central American states are embracing a multicultural presentation of themselves on international stages to help rebuild their image in the wake of devastating civil wars, and in some cases genocide, during the 1970s through the 1990s.

Traditional feminists often publicly rejected beauty pageants as sexist and particularly exploitative and degrading of women and their bodies (valuing them only for their looks). They also noted the exclusion of women of color in these pageants as reflective of racist standards of beauty. Second and third wave feminists have taken a more nuanced view that embraces black beauty queens. These feminists call for the reclaiming of beauty, make-up, and other feminine topics, and view activities such as beauty pageants, which involve women of color as full participants. They see such pageants as a reclamation of beauty for women of color who so often in history were not treated or seen as beautiful by others.

Shortly after she was crowned Miss Honduras, Kenia Martinez, surrounded by others from coastal Honduras, was emotional, excited, happy, and grateful. Above all else, she was most proud of being black and a part of beauty pageant history in her country, which now sought to embrace all of its people regardless of color.