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Would-be contestants in the naming of Miss Hispanic Queen of Hernando County have until Aug. 17 to enter. The 2018 Latin American Festival will be held Sept. 29 at the Lake House, in Spring Hills.

SPRING HILL — When Vivian Rivera, under the nonprofit organization Miss Hispanic Queen, began organizing a Latin American event in Spring Hill, her vision captured culture, style, music and cuisine. And the highlight was the crowning of a young local teen who represented the uniqueness of the culture.

Five years later, the tradition of crowning Miss Hispanic Queen is as active as ever. But the format is changing a bit as Rivera and other organizers prepare for the second annual Latin American Festival, a full day, family-friendly event that will showcase local ethnicity with live music, artsy displays, authentic cuisine and crown this year’s queen. It is scheduled for Sept. 29 at the Lake House at 1202 Kenlake Ave.

Crowning Miss Hispanic Queen will still be an important part of the festival, Rivera said. But the focus of the event will be on a broader scale, demonstrating the culture through various displays, including live national acts. Miss Hispanic Queen will be only a small piece of a beautifully displayed puzzle.

The annual search for a young Latin girl to crown began as a vision to create an awareness for Hernando County’s diverse Latin flavor. “What we do is celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month,” explained Rivera.

She grew up in a multicultural neighborhood in New Jersey where celebrations of different cultures were a huge part of the yearly events. But she noticed Hernando County had no specific plan to spotlight its Latin population. And she set out to change it.

Each year Miss Hispanic Queen searched for a young lady between the ages of 14 to 18. Those who registered participated in a series of workshops that focused on Hispanic culture and tradition.

“It wasn’t meant to be a pageant,” Rivera explained.

Independent judges scored the girls and determined who would be crowned Miss Hispanic Queen for that participation year. The winner was announced at a dance during Latin American Awareness Month in September.

But in 2017, Rivera met with the Hernando County Parks and Recreation Department officials to discuss an actual festival. National entertainment was booked. Large sponsors jumped on board. And Hernando County planned its first organized celebration at the Lake House.

Then Hurricane Irma hit the weekend before and left most of the county without power for days. Rivera remembered almost canceling the festival, though they had worked all year to bring the dream to life.

But Parks and Recreation Director Harry Johnson suggested using the festival as a distraction and opportunity to bond a community in crisis. The outcome proved even more successful than Rivera could have imagined.

Now planning the Sept. 29 second festival, organizers decided to scale down the traditional element of Miss Hispanic Queen. Instead of workshops, participants are required to write an essay describing how their ethnicity and culture have defined them. Entries will be judged, and the queen will be introduced at the festival.

“In order to focus on other needs of our community and our upcoming Hispanic Heritage Festival on Sept. 29 at Lake House, the organization's committee decided to change the process for selecting our next Miss Hispanic Queen of Hernando County to an essay submission,” Rivera explained.

There is still time to enter the contest which pays handsomely in a cash reward. The winner can use her winnings to offset some of the costs associated with high school or college.

The deadline for submissions is Aug. 17. Those interested can send a request for more information to Vivianrivera1020@yahoo.com, including requirements and important dates.

Miss Hispanic Queen is interested in local youth which is one important reason why the organization was established in 2013. In addition to the cash prize awarded the crowned queen, a scholarship is given to a local senior.

“We want the youth to understand and embrace and celebrate their culture,” Rivera said.