Nuestra Belleza Latina star Chats with ElMundoBoston.com; Added to Xfinity Latino Family Festival at Fenway Park
By: Elvis Jocol Lara
For decades, the Guatemalan community in the United States has been largely ignored by the media, even Latino media, despite being one of largest Latino communities in the country (it also happens to be tied for the third largest in Greater Boston). Things began to change earlier this year when proud Chapina, Josephine Ochoa, broke several barriers on her way to finishing runner up in Univision’s Nuestra Belleza Latina and putting Chapines on the map.
Ochoa will break yet another barrier on August 10th as she becomes the first Guatemalan figure to grace Fenway Park as a special guest of El Mundo Media and local community organization, Casa Guatemala, at the Xfinity Latino Family Festival.
It’s been a whirlwind of activity for her since the finale of Nuestra Belleza Latina, and making Latinos across the country take note of the Guatemalan community is only one of the accomplishments she’s proud of in light of her newfound success. Recently, Josephine spoke with ElMundoBoston.com about her family, the experience on the show and much more in a conversation leading up to her big day at Fenway Park.
In a lot of ways Josephine represents the new generation of Latinos across the country. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she is American but maintains deep ties to her Latina heritage.
Being bicultural and bilingual is a very important component of her identity, and maintaining that connection to language and culture is something her parents prioritized for all of their six children very early on.
“Most families nowadays don’t speak Spanish and they lose their roots. My family always took pride in that. I grew up speaking Spanish, unlike lots of my friends, and once a year they took me to Guatemala whenever we could afford it. I was able to see different cultures and spend a lot of time with my family there; I had a lot of cousins and I was able to see how they were raised down there.”
As with lots of Latinos, her family and heritage have played a highly influential role in shaping who Josephine Ochoa is today. “Things are very different in Guatemala. Here in the United States we’re more open minded. Here we are taught to be free and spiritual but you go there and they are much more conservative and religious. But it’s good. I take pieces of both and it helps me balance my life.”
Beyond the beauty and accolades, there exists a woman devoted to family and hard work; traits engrained following a humble upbringing faced with financial hardships and years of witnessing her parents fight to provide their children with all that they could.
“My family is very hard working and united. We’ve learned to support each other because we are everything that we’ve got and I’ve come to rely on their support a lot; they are my inspiration. I come from a low income family where we were taught about hard work at an early age. We didn’t have a lot; we weren’t a family where the children got an allowance. We had to work for everything we had and that taught me about responsibility and to always work towards your dream.”
Nuestra Belleza Latina a Dream Come True
Josephine’s dream has always been to grace the nation’s television screens. Ochoa rose to prominence on Univision’s Nuestra Belleza Latina in 2014, but her journey began in 2013 when she first auditioned for the show.
“I never considered myself a pageant girl but I was always interested in TV and performing. Of course, we were always tight on money, and I could never pay for the programs that would prepare me for such a career. So when I turned 18 I looked at Nuestra Belleza Latina and told myself, ‘I have to audition,’ because I saw it as a platform to prepare myself for the world I wanted to be a part of.”
Among thousands of candidates nationwide, she reached the top 60 in 2013 which, unfortunately for her, was not enough to reach the televised component of the show. But rather than being deterred, Ochoa was encouraged by her performance.
“Being a part of the top 60 gave me hope. I looked at girls from across the country who had tons of practice and preparation who didn’t make it as far as I did. That’s when I decided to join Miss Guatemala US.”
Her participation in the US-based, Guatemalan pageant was the turning point for Ochoa, who initially joined the competition simply to gain experience but ended up winning the crown. “I became a totally different person,” she says, “and it made me want to pursue my dream and audition again for Nuestra Belleza Latina.”
When auditions for Nuestra Belleza Latina rolled around the next year, Ochoa was ready to go, bolstered by her recent Miss Guatemala US victory and the added confidence that came with it.
“I was always shy and maybe insecure because I saw that many of the other girls had money. I knew their parents gave them what they needed. But you know what? Eventually I lost those fears and became confident and stopped worrying about classism. I wanted to stop thinking about what they had and focus instead on what I could do. Thank god I had a natural ability to learn fast and project on camera.”
Learn fast she did. The second time around on the show, Ochoa not only made it past the top 60, she exploded onto the scene, making it all the way to the final day of the competition. Her success was particularly impressive given that fan vote support came not only from the Guatemalan community – which no doubt was substantial – but from a large cross section of the larger Latino community.
“I had support from all over the world. Venezuela, Colombia, México, the Carribean; it’s crazy. At the end of the day, I realized that people not only see you as representing a country, they relate to you as a person, and people can relate to me. At the end of the day I come from a low income, hardworking family, and that’s real. People can understand that.”
So what did it feel like to be one of the two remaining contestants on stage with millions of eyes across the country placed squarely on her at the finale?
“To be honest. I just wanted to get on the show. At the beginning I would say, ‘Dad, if I’m in the top 12 finalists, I’ll be happy.’ Next thing you know, I’m on the show, and I would tell my dad, ‘If I make the top 6 then I’m happy.’ Then, when I made the top 6, things got real, and then being a finalist was just amazing.”
“So when I was there holding the hand of the winner, not knowing who was going to win, I was already happy. The crown is only a symbol. At the end of the day I was happy I made it that far and that Guatemala was represented in such a positive way.”
Missing out on the Crown but gaining a legion of fans
As folks now know, Ochoa’s bid for the crown came up short, finishing as runner up to winner Aleyda Ortiz, of Puerto Rico. But her fan support did not finish there. As soon as the final results were announced, fans took to social media to voice their displeasure.
The hashtag “#UniFraude” trended on social media as fans complained of a rigged outcome which “stole” the crown from Ochoa. The source of their outrage came from a vote tally purportedly released prior to the show’s finale which showed Ochoa with a nearly insurmountable lead (ElMundoBoston.com has not verified the veracity of this vote count).
Ochoa’s fans went as far as to stage protest rallies across the country in cities such as New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. For her part, Josephine was mostly unaware of the outrage at first, due to Univision restrictions on smartphones and social media use during the show.
“To be honest I wasn’t aware of anything because during the competition they take away our phones. We’re not allowed to see the news or anything. We were like in prison. When I got my phone back and started going through my social media, for 2 to 3 weeks, I was like in ‘zombie mode.’ I couldn’t believe that was me they were all supporting. It’s amazing what one person can do. People saw me grow so much on the show and they related to me because I was one of the girls with the least experience. I had people calling me, literally crying, to tell me that they voted for me and that they couldn’t believe I didn’t win. “
As far as the controversy goes, Ochoa is mostly silent on the matter. “All I can say is that I was one of the top girls who had a lot of votes. I honestly have no proof of any wrong doing so at the end of the day I wouldn’t know. But it shows a lot of passion on behalf of my fans, and what’s important is that I gained a lot of people who believe in me and that’s what keeps me strong and keeps me going in the media business.”
What’s Next for Josephine Ochoa?
That’s the question all of her fans want to know. All too often, success in reality based competitions can be fleeting; here today, gone tomorrow. Ochoa, however, is determined to buck that trend.
“I want to be an example of perseverance. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you can do it. The reason I even auditioned for the show was to be a part of the media. I see myself as the host or co-host of a show one day and I plan to become a business woman in the media.”
Being bilingual and bicultural gives Ochoa options. With every passing day, the changing face of America presents opportunities to the bicultural and bilingual Latino to connect with audiences across the country unlike any other demographic. So in which direction does Josephine see her career going?
“I have both cultures. On the show I wasn’t allowed to talk much English which was hard for me. But I want to mix both languages. I feel I represent a second generation of Latinos. There’s a lot of people like me. I like to watch my ENews and MTV and sometimes I watch my Spanish TV also. Thinking of the possibilities fills me with adrenaline. I want to do that and I will post all of that to social media,” she says with a big laugh. “Hashtag bilingual.”
Coming to Boston
Ochoa says she’s never been to Boston and knows little about the city – understandable given the distance between the coastal cities and her only recent foray into travel – but is very excited to add “The Hub” to her growing list of destinations visited.
“Unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Boston but I’ve heard great things. The city has so much history and I’m just excited to explore all of it. I enjoy architecture, food and people so I’m sure I’ll just walk around the city and take selfies in front everything!”
As it appears she is unaware that Greater Boston is home to one of the largest Guatemalan communities in the country, at this point I inform her of the flourishing Guatemalan enclaves in cities like Waltham, Lynn and Framingham.
“Woo!” she exclaims, unable to hide her excitement. “I did not know that! That only makes this better. Not a lot of people know that, so I’m definitely going to publish, and let people know, I’m going to Boston, home of one of America’s greatest Guatemalan communities!
And what about Fenway? Ochoa is slated to be the first Guatemalan ever to represent the community at America’s most beloved Ballpark. “Just wow. I feel very fortunate because just a year ago I was a regular girl and here I am being invited to the Mecca of baseball. I’m blessed to represent the Guatemalan community. I wish I could take my whole family so they could enjoy this with me. Growing up I never knew I would be a symbol for the community across the country.”
So will she be donning any Boston gear during her visit to the Bean? Dare I say a Celtics jersey? “I live right next to the staples center! I would feel like I’m betraying LA. If I come back with a Celtics jersey they’ll kill me!” While I’m sure many in Boston would volunteer to offer shelter, I suppose we can let that slide.
At times, it can be difficult to recall that Ochoa is only 21 years old. Undeniably polished and magnetic in Spanish, the Cali girl from humble beginnings peers her head out in casual conversation when the discussion turns to English. With her unmistakable LA accent, Ochoa conveys a youthful enthusiasm, yet a maturity beyond her years. No doubt, she is just the girl next door looking to make good on the American dream.
So as you grumble your way to your T stop the weekend of August 10th, make sure to keep an eye open for Josephine Ochoa because you might just photobomb her latest selfie. Or you can take a picture with Josephine (photobomb free) that Sunday at the Xfinity Latino Family Festival at Fenway Park presented by El Mundo Media and the Boston Red Sox (A Guatemalan flag and Celtic attire is a plus!).
Elvis Jocol Lara is Founder and President of Casa Guatemala, Director of Digital Media at El Mundo Media and a regular contributor to ElMundoBoston.com and El Mundo Newspaper. A child of Guatemalan immigrants, he was born in Boston and raised in Waltham, MA. Follow him on Twitter @ElChapin.