The first thing that impresses you when you’re interviewing the crowned Miss West Coast USA Natalie Iman Duvalsaint is how articulate she is. Being expressive is something that’s expected of a pageant queen, but Duvalsaint—the daughter of Haitian parents—is startlingly candid as she discusses everything from pageants, to culture to natural hair…
Kreyolicious: Tell me about yourself.
I never really know how to answer this question because I’m just all over the place! I am a beauty queen, but have a love for burritos, all things 49ers and music festivals. I’m currently working as an Administrative Assistant at Yahoo Inc. and am loving it. Being 22 years old and working at one of the biggest tech companies is a blessing—to say the least. I’m a daughter, a sister and an auntie to the coolest 13 year-old boy I know. I love the color pink and anything that shines when the light hits it. My family and faith are the two most important things in my life and that is one thing about me that will never change. If I’m not competing you can find me at home watching “True Blood”, going out to San Francisco with my girlfriends or eating at the nearest Chipotle. But the most important thing about me is that I’m Haitian-American. I love everything from our food to our language and I think being a Haitian beauty queen makes me truly unique.
Kreyolicious: Were you pretty popular when you were in high school?
To be honest, I don’t think I was popular—but in my mind I was. My high school was pretty cliquey, so I think we all thought we were popular with in our little groups. I played tennis all four years—which was considered the nerdy sport—but I didn’t care…I loved it. Not to mention our coach used to bring us Popeye’s and Dim Sum for us to devour after our matches!
Kreyolicious: How’d you hear about the pageant?
Once you do your first pageant, you’re hooked! I competed in 2012 for Miss Anaheim Regional—and although I didn’t win—it was the best decision I could have ever made. It opened me up to the world of pageantry and got me in contact with a lot of pageant directors throughout California. I came across Beezie Chapman’s pageant when my girlfriend mentioned to me that there was a competition going on here in Northern California. Most pageants in the USA system are in Los Angeles so when I heard about Miss West Coast USA, I jumped at the opportunity to register and compete.
Kreyolicious: Did you think you had a shot at carrying off the crown and all?
When I went to the orientation I have to admit I was a little bit intimidated. I wasn’t competing as frequently as I wanted to, so I just had the mindset of competing for experience. During the whole competition, I was so nervous and I thought I actually did a terrible job! The day of the pageant, my pageant sister Gabi told me, “At the end of the day, the judges choose the winner—not the other girls competing. So, there is no reason to be intimidated by them”. That advice has stuck with me since that day.
Kreyolicious: What went through your mind when the pageant hosts came and put that sash around you, and put the tiara on your head?
I wanted to cry and scream at the same time! I had been competing for two years—coming so close to the crown but always coming up short. I prayed to God to give me a sign, to let me know if I was doing the right thing and he answered my prayer that night! When we stayed on stage for winners’ pictures, I could not believe the sash was around my body and the crown was on my head! All I could think about was going to McDonalds and treating myself to an endless amount of fries.
Kreyolicious: Is there a song that you feel epitomizes you as a person?
This is probably the most cliché answer but my song is “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. Growing up, I felt like an ugly duckling. It was hard growing up in a predominantly Caucasian town when you’re a young Haitian girl trying to figure it all out. I felt different from the food I ate, to how my mom did my hair to the way that I looked. I was 10 years old entering middle school when I heard this song in the back of my mom’s Camry and thought this song was written about me. It’s just one of those songs you listen too to remind yourself how great you are.
Kreyolicious: Has it changed meaning for you over time?
It never gets old! It was released fourteen years ago and it’s still a positive uplifting song that I think all young girls should here. Thanks Christina.
Kreyolicious: I had read this quote earlier today by this model Laetitia Casta. “Real beauty is to be true to oneself. That’s what makes me feel good.” What’s your definition of beauty and what does being beautiful mean to you?
Being a girl these days is simply just hard. We are judged daily by what we wear, what we like, the shape of our body down to the color we choose to wear on our nails. I think a beautiful woman is someone that can take all that and choose to be themselves no matter what the “norm” is at the time. I envy that in a person and I just think someone like that is so strong and classy. My definition of beauty is just loving and accepting yourself.
Kreyolicious: What would you say to a girl who wants to enter a pageant, whether Miss West Coast USA or any other pageant?
I would tell them to do it! Competing is so much fun and once your done with one, you will want to keep going. You don’t need to look like a Victoria’s Secret model in order to compete and win, I mean, look at me! There’s a stereotype that pageant girls are catty and/or backstabbing but it’s completely the opposite! I have made so many lifelong friends competing through out the years and have met some truly remarkable people. When you compete I promise you, you wont regret it
Kreyolicious: Does the opinion of other people matter to you? I’ve spoken with people who are at either extremes. You…
I wish I could say people opinions don’t matter to me but I would be lying. I do my best to not let others influence me but it gets hard when the opinion is coming from someone respect and care about.
Kreyolicious: What do you think of natural hair versus chemically processed hair?
I have my hair chemically processed but I envy all the ladies that have gone natural! I think natural hair is just beautiful and embodies our beautiful African American culture. For me, it’s just about whatever makes you feel good about yourself. Some girls like weaves, some like braids, some like natural and some like no hair at all. You can really rock any hairstyle. You just have to be confident.
Kreyolicious: How would you describe your personal style?
My style is pretty versatile. One minute I’m girly then the next minute I’m over the top. If I’m not in my typical maxi dress or rompers, I’m in leggings and a tank top. I love to be comfortable but presentable at the same time. I’m one of those girls whose style changes depending on the mood I’m in that day.
Kreyolicious: Are you close to your parents?
I am very close to my parents! Of course we have the typical arguments over what they think is appropriate versus what I think is appropriate but that’s natural you’re a first generation American. My mom and dad are my rocks and deserve a lifetime achievement award for raising me and still not loosing their minds.
Kreyolicious: Do you travel to Haiti, often girlie?
I wish! I went for the first time in 2010 after the earthquake to restore a church that had been ruined and assist in a feeding program for kids. I fell in love. There’s something about being surrounded by your own people. You just instantly feel like family. I went again in February of this year and my stay was magnificent. My uncle works for DINEPA and took us all around Petionville and told us his plans on making water more accessible to everyone. It’s almost heartbreaking to see all these gorgeous places in Haiti but when you watch on TV, they only show the poverty. Our island is beautiful and our people are so resilient. I think they need to show that more here in the United States.
Kreyolicious: Who would you say has been the most inspirational person in your life?
The most inspirational person in my life is my mother hands down. She has worked her whole life tirelessly to provide a life for my younger sister and I that most people in Haiti could inly dream of. She doesn’t depend on anybody but herself and it takes a very strong woman to live a life like that. She has come to America and built a life and family for herself despite all her previous hardships. She’s just a rock star and doesn’t even know it. I could give my mom ten million dollars tomorrow and it still wouldn’t be enough compensation for everything she has done for me. She is my angel, my protector and my true hero. I love her more than she will ever know.
Kreyolicious: Is staying fit a challenge for you?
Absolutely. Every Sunday we have family dinner and one thing I can always count on is having rice at the table. My dad’s diri ak pwa is no joke and I have a hard time staying away. If there is any bannan peze on the table too, my diet that day is pretty much over because I can’t resist that crispy deliciousness with the pikliz on top. I will say though, I think my body stays in shape because I see a trainer 5 days a week—so when Sunday comes around, I don’t feel guilty at all. Just talking about it has me craving some serious patè from my grandma right now.
Kreyolicious: Hah!…How do you stay connected to Haitian culture?
I stay connected through social media and family. There are not too many Haitian people here in California so when we find each other; it’s like finding a diamond in Sierra Leone. We cultivate relationships and connect through food and culture. I’m also part of a Facebook group called for Haitians in the West Coast where we all talk about whatever we feel like from music, to food to just funny Haitian jokes only we would understand! We all know that one guy, Jòrj.
Kreyolicious: A pageant queen’s life doesn’t end once she walks off the stage. What else are you planning on doing with it?
A pageant queen’s work never ends! Being a titleholder has given me so many opportunities to pursue things I never dreamed possible. First order of business is competing in Miss California USA 2015 in January. To be even presented with the opportunity to walk that stage as a titleholder has been a dream of mine since I started competing seven years ago. Ideally, I would like to be a nightly news anchor in hopes of bringing awareness to real world issues we all face, but are too afraid to talk about. Lastly, one day I hope I will get a title so prestigious that it will allow me access to resources I would need to build an American orphanage in Cap Haitian.
[Pageant photos of Natalie Duvalsaint: Sarah Hult Photography ]
Connect with Natalie Duvalsaint on Pinterest by CLICKING HERE.