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 The Miss California Latina Pageant popped into Kassandra ‘Kassie’ Peña’s life three times before she finally spontaneously decided to sign up and compete. The 24-year-old San Jose State University broadcast journalism graduate holds the title of Miss San Jose Latina.

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While surfing YouTube, as a sophomore in college, Peña stumbled upon a YouTube user who competed in the pageant. Peña glanced over the pageant website, but ultimately ignored it. Some time after, while surfing YouTube, she found herself on the pageant website, but once again she ignored it. About a year ago, Peña ran into the pageant website for a third time.“This keeps coming to me, obviously it’s meant to be in my life for a reason. So then I said, you know what, I have nothing to lose. I’m totally just going to apply to it,” said Peña.

A month after applying, Peña was selected to be a contestant. Shortly after, she was notified that she would represent San Jose in the pageant. “When I got notified that I was representing San Jose, I was just so excited because I knew I would have a lot more opportunities in this large city,” said Peña.

Although she is considered a rookie by pageant standards since this is her first competition, Peña and her family have embraced pageant life to fullest. “It’s definitely an experience in my family because no one has ever done a pageant. I’ll be the first and we’ll see what happens,” said Peña.

Aside from the glitz and the glamour of the pageant gowns, each contestant must also have a platform. For Peña, that platform was an easy choice: gang prevention. Her interest in the topic began in high school when she did a presentation about gangs in the area.

Within her family and circle of friends, Peña witnessed the psychological effects of gang life. “Research is showing that gang members are now initiating and trying to recruit as young as 11 and 12 year olds,” said Peña. This past year, Peña attended the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force town hall meetings to learn in-depth about gang prevention, and meet with the community to create a plan to combat gang life.

With her current title, Peña hopes to remind children “there are other outlets  in life besides joining a gang.” “With any title, someone has so much power and it’s really what you do with that power that determines how great of a leader you can be.”

If Peña were to win the title of Miss California Latina, she hopes to start her own organization focused on keeping children safe, or contribute and network with an established organization.

Even though Peña has not competed yet, she is already a voice for young Latinas. Peña is a contributing writer to Latinas magazine, an online magazine focused on empowering Latina youth. She has also documented her entire pageant experience on her WordPress blog. Her blogging skills have even earned her a guest spot on NPR’s Latino USA with Maria Hinojosa. Peña  was asked to speak about Latina body image.

Peña will compete for the title of Miss California Latina on November 29-December 1st in Pasadena, California. With or without the state title of Miss California Latina, Peña is simply humbled to have taken part in the experience.  You can read about Peña’s pageant experience  at:http://lovekassiep.wordpress.com/

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