Sitting less than comfortably on a trendy metal chair designed by a sadist with impeccable taste, I waited patiently on the patio at Leone Cafe for a young lady some friends wanted Ana and me to meet. The afternoon desert sun did her best to soften the time in a kind and far more approachable way than she does in the dead of summer. I don’t mind trendy coffee shops, hard chairs and all, and the Leone Cafe at Tivoli Village in Las Vegas is one of my favorites.
About half way through my ridiculously oversized cup of tea she turned the corner and walked into view. There was no doubt this was the girl. I had seen her pictures, she was the reigning Miss Nevada Latina, but even if I hadn’t, I would be sure this was her. She took beautiful to a new dimension and with it came an unusual warmth, kindness, grace, and decorum. I don’t recall what she was wearing, but I will never forget her face.
A couple years have passed since then, and Francoise Renteria is like family to us now. She has modeled for me and Ana and I trained her for one of her pageants, the Miss USA Latina, but she is mostly just a very close friend.
She is an unusual girl by today’s standards. She is respectful toward others and certainly to her elders. She speaks kindly of people and dislikes gossip. She has an interest in history and current events but prefers to dig beneath the surface rather than just consume and regurgitate the biases and sensationalism of 24-hour cable news companies. She comfortably moves in a world of powerful executives, yet the trappings of their success doesn’t impress her. She is drawn to a person’s exceptional character and has high standards for herself as well.
She was born in Manhattan, New York on March 31/1991. Both of her parents are native Colombians. She lives in Las Vegas with her mother and two older brothers. Seven years ago she was recruited by a department head at MGM Resorts and today she is an executive assistant at the Aria Hotel, a very coveted position.
She had the opportunity to model with Miss Colombia in 1999, and it inspired her to get into modeling. In 2009 at the age of 18 she entered a small local pageant, her first, and in 2014 she won the Miss Nevada Latina title. That year she also placed in the top ten at the Miss US Latina competition held in the Dominican Republic. At the end of her reign, she retired from competing in pageants but left that chapter behind her a much better young woman.
We talked about what she gained from the experience. “ I’ve gained self-confidence, discipline, better communication skills and leadership. I gained many friends and excellent mentors that are part of my life today. I also have the best memories from it. Furthermore, I learned that you define the crown; the crown does not define you.”
She also talked briefly about some of the challenges she faces and how she overcame them. “There were people that tried to discourage me because I did not fit their ideal beauty image. I was able to prove them wrong with hard work and dedication. Lastly, I proved that my image did not define who I was or my potential to succeed in the future. I learned that I could empower other women to believe in their dreams regardless of their circumstances.”
“I miss the hard workouts I would have at 5 am with you and Ana. Although I hated them at the moment, it kept me focused and always learned life lessons every time. I also miss meeting wonderful, intelligent women that are so inspirational.”
She also draws the very best from her Colombian roots, “ I am the most proud of having Colombian roots because it gave me a great foundation. I believe Colombian people are optimistic, even in the worst of circumstances. Colombians are always looking to see the best of things. While others might feel shame about being from a country that has been plagued by drug traffic and guerrillas and war. I feel extremely proud and chose to look at the biodiversity, the landscape, the weather, the beautiful people and music.”
And that’s what she truly holds in her heart.
We talk about historical figures, influencers and sociology often and we have discussed many great leaders. I was not surprised when she told me which historical figure she admired most. “I admire Nelson Mandela because he accomplished so much in his lifetime and refused to compromise his beliefs to obtain freedom. Mandela’s legacy continues to be a source of inspiration for civil rights activists around the world today.”
At this time Francoise is finishing her degree and has dreams to do something truly meaningful, beyond just a secure job and paycheck. She wants to make her mark in the world doing something that ignites her passion. At this point, it’s a secret, but every day of her life she works closer and closer to that goal.
When Ana and I met her, I saw a face and a persona, and it was shockingly beautiful. Today as I sit here reflecting on this young lady and the impact she has had on mine and Ana’s life, her face and body fade into the past and something else emerges under the spotlight. Something from deep inside of her and far more beautiful than one could ever imagine.