Photo Credit: TN
Meet Vanessa Mendoza: The First Afro-Colombian Woman To Win Miss Colombia
Trailblazer: a person who is the first to do something; an innovator.
Being the first to do something isn’t always easy, but Vanessa Mendoza took that chance. The Cali, Colombia native was the first woman of African descent to win the title of Miss Colombia is 2001. Yes, in a country where the coastal region is more than 90% Black, this didn’t happen until 2001. Since then, only one other Afro-Colombian woman has won. That was in 2015.
We had the chance to sit down with her in her home country to learn more about her journey to winning the crown and where things stand now as far as progress in the South American country.
Vanessa does not speak English so this interview was conducted with the help of her translator.
When you see Vanessa she immediately stands out in the crowd. She is tall and has some of the most beautiful rich brown skin I have ever seen. As a young girl, she grew up in the Choco region just outside of Cali, Colombia which is known to be one of the largest Afro-Colombian areas of the country.
Growing up near Cali, Vanessa didn’t face very much racism or discrimination. It was only when traveling to other cities such as Bogota, that she and her sisters were often discriminated against for the color of their skin. Bogota’s Afro-Colombian population is very low compared to places like Cartagena or Cali.
Despite this, she set out to compete for the title of Miss Colombia, something that wasn’t known to be favorable for Afro-Colombian women.
“Before going out for the pageant, people would tell me how beautiful I was. But, because I was a Black woman there was no way that I would win,” Vanessa told Travel Noire.
That year the pageant was held in Cartagena, which is majority Black. Residents there fell in love with Mendoza and helped to sway the decision in her favor.
“I am very proud of what I did. My family is also very proud. They were very nervous before I went to compete, but now they see that a Black woman can win too.”
As a part of her platform, she created a nonprofit organization to advocate for children of Afro-Colombian descent. In addition to helping those who are underprivileged she also pushes for more young Afro-Colombian girls to get into pageants if it is something that they want to do.
Vanessa most recently finished a term in Congress, something she ventured into a little later. She hopes to see Cali and all of Colombia do more for the Afro population of the country. There are many who have been displaced along the coast and have made their way into Cali to escape.
“Black people make up a large population of Cali and we are the gate of the Pacific region which is also where a lot of Afro-Colombians live. We have to advance in breaking down discrimination here in this city.”
To see more of Vanessa, you can find her on Instagram at @vanessamendozab.