By Jennifer Mota
November 19, 2018 03:14 PM

The Miss Republica Dominicana US (aka Miss RD US) organization crowned it’s newest reyna on October 7 in New York City, putting Casandra Coradin, who represented the city of Santiago, Dominican Republic, on the path toward Miss Universe. But first, the 23-year-old Brooklynite of Dominican descent has to win the Miss Dominican Republic 2019 contest where she will represent the US in July. The most famous contestant to win Miss RD US is probably Clarissa Molina, who made to the top 6 at Miss Universe in 2015 (the model and TV host also won Nuestra Belleza Latina in 2016). 

Casandra Coradin has an upbeat and motivational tone, but she has gone through her share of traumatic experiences. In her junior year of high school, her dad died of brain cancer, and she found herself forced to get a job in order to help her mother.

“My mom always taught me to be strong. I’ve had many situations in my life like losing my house, losing my father out of the nowhere, you know. So I had many things that I experienced that made me strong,” she tells CHICA. 

During her first week of college, a fire caused the loss of her family’s home and belongings. She had to worry about where she would sleep that night, if she was going to eat, and whether she could even deal with schoolwork. She credits school resources, such as her counselor, for helping her gain the strength to move on. But the experience changed the way she views possessions — she now cherishes the simplest things.

Back when she was 11, Casandra experienced the suicide of a middle school friend. “[The friend] was getting bullied in school, taunted all the time. One day she just never came back to school. At a young age, you don’t really realize that you’re bullying somebody, you think it’s, oh, it’s funny or everybody else is doing it, but we have to get the youth to know that it is a serious issue and mental health exists,” she said. This experience, plus her background in psychology, has led her to use the Miss RD US platform to address mental health. 

Since she was crowned, Casandra has worked on solidifying her campaign for this cause. She believes social media contributes to mental health issues for the Latinas of this generation.

“A lot of girls nowadays, all they want to do is, you know, be posting a lot and just think that everything is about pleasing others,” she says. “But it’s more than just pleasing others. It should be about yourself feeling content with yourself internally. So I would say just find your peace and just be yourself.” She wants girls that look up to her to have goals, complete every single one of them, and to educate themselves.

As for the night Casandra won the hearts and minds of the Miss RD US judges: A month later, the moment she was crowned remains vivid in her memory. “My first thought was, Me? What? I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. You just don’t know what to do or who to look at, who to smile at. It’s just like, oh my gosh, everybody’s looking at me. It was such a great feeling and I’m just so happy.” 

Viewers and critics tend to focus on the more aesthetic aspects of the competition, but the Miss Republica Dominicana US is not just about ranking women by physical appearance. The contestants study hard. Much more than just hair and makeup prep, they prepared themselves by reading, staying in tune with both American and Dominican history and news, as well as participating in diction classes to improve their Spanish language skills.

Casandra tells CHICA: “People are not looking for just a pretty face. They’re looking for a person who’s educated and who knows what she’s talking about. They have to be very aware of what’s going on.”

As a competitor, she explained that mental training is very important. There will be an audience who will be critical, participants have to be strong and know that not everyone is going to like you. “Everything that I know, everything from how I was raised, it just came to me in those moments, like respecting myself, keeping my head up, staying strong and that’s when I put it to use.”